JAKARTA • The attempt by terrorist group ISIS to create a fully pledged wilayat, or province, in the southern Philippines poses a serious security threat to Indonesia.
Commander of the Indonesian military, General Gatot Nurmantyo, warned that ISIS, which is in retreat in Iraq and Syria from internationally backed forces, is building its base in Mindanao, a restive island that borders Kalimantan and Sulawesi.
The recent rise in abductions by terrorist groups from commercial vessels passing through southern Philippines' waters indicated that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants in the area are raising money to build the base, he said.
"I have raised concerns about this issue for six months. (ISIS) can enter Indonesia from there (the southern Philippines)," Gen Gatot said on the sidelines of a seminar on terrorism in Jakarta on Tuesday.
Militants believed to be linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group have kidnapped dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors and demanded millions of dollars in ransom.
It is unclear how much ransom the group has collected so far, but the Philippines' Inquirer newspaper reported in October that Abu Sayyaf had pocketed at least 353 million pesos (S$10 million) in ransom from January to June.
Some of this money is thought to have been paid in exchange for the release of 14 Indonesians and four Malaysians, although both Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur have denied paying any ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who, in turn, has appointed former Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, alias Abu Abdullah al-Filipini, as leader of ISIS forces in South-east Asia.
Gen Gatot argued that ISIS, which he said is motivated more by economic factors than ideology, had chosen South-east Asia as its future headquarters because its lucrative financial sources in the Middle East had been severely reduced.
Terrorism analyst Al Chaidar said it was Baghdadi himself who chose the southern Philippines as ISIS' base in South-east Asia.
He had planned to appoint Indonesian firebrand cleric and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) leader Aman Abdurrahman as ISIS leader in the region, but Aman is in jail.
Mr Chaidar added that the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar could escalate the security threat in the region as ISIS could use it as a pretext to call on its foreign fighters to flock to South-east Asia to wage war against the government in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the National Counterterrorism Agency has said Aman's JAD is the most dangerous terrorist organisation in Indonesia, as it has direct connections with other international terror groups.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK