Militants in Mindanao seen 'mutating' to bigger ISIS umbrella group

Soldiers stopping a vehicle at a military checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu, in southern Philippines on Sept 25, 2014. Extremist groups in the restive southern island of Mindanao are seen "mutating" into a "large, more coordinated, more sophisticated org
Soldiers stopping a vehicle at a military checkpoint in Jolo, Sulu, in southern Philippines on Sept 25, 2014. Extremist groups in the restive southern island of Mindanao are seen "mutating" into a "large, more coordinated, more sophisticated organisation" that could launch new attacks across the Philippines, a senior military official said on Thursday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

EXTREMIST groups in the restive southern island of Mindanao are seen "mutating" into a "large, more coordinated, more sophisticated organisation" that could launch new attacks across the Philippines, a senior military official said on Thursday.

In a security forum, Brigadier-General Joselito Kakilala said the brutal Abu Sayyaf Group and the secessionist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement "may either jointly or separately regroup and launch fresh new offensives to government-held positions and civilian populations in Mindanao and across the country".

Both groups have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is waging a bloody civil war to establish a new Islamic caliphate.

Brig-Gen Kakilala, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' strategic studies unit, said a particular concern is the emergence of the Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao, which is fighting to turn Mindanao into an Islamic republic, an "umbrella organisation" for "existing and emerging jihadist groups" with direct ties to ISIS.

He said the Malaysia-based Jemaah Islamiyah could also revive its ties with another Muslim militant group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, "to increase leverage in central Mindanao".

Former president Fidel Ramos, who used to head the Philippine military as chief of staff, said some 200 Filipinos are now fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq where the terrorist group has seized large areas and declared a Muslim "caliphate".

rdancel@sph.com.sg