MARAWI CITY – Basilan province in the restive Muslim autonomous region has become the bastion of power of the jihadist group Abu Sayyaf after it pledged allegiance anew to the caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and named new leaders aligned with the international Islamic extremist group.
In a propaganda video released by the Abu Sayyaf and picked up by international media, more than two dozen gunmen – including child warriors – led by rebel leader Isnilon Hapilon were seen hiking in the hinterlands of Basilan while chanting the “Dawlah Islamiyah (Islamic State)” after which they recited an Arabic script of bayah or pledge of allegiance.
Hapilon alias Abu Abdullah was named as the new leader of the “Harakatul Islamiyah” (Islamic Movement)” the new name given to the Abu Sayyaf by its founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani who was slain in a police shootout in Basilan in December 1998.
The Abu Sayyaf evolved to a notorious group known for having carried out kidnappings, bombings and other criminal activities in southern Philippines. The US government has offered a $5 million bounty for Hapilon’s head – dead or alive.
In the video, Hapilon was shown with Abu Harith Al-Filibbieni , who is reported to be deputy commander of the al-Ansar Infantry Division of the ISIS, and Mohd Najib Husen (Hussein) alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, a division head of the Ansar al-Sharia of the ISIS.
The rebels explained in the video that they had previously done the bayah, but did it again in front of their new leaders. It was unknown when the video was recorded, but it was released just after the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City claimed last month that Husen was killed during offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the troubled province of Basilan in December.
Husen was with other Malaysian jihadists – Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil – who fled to southern Philippines reportedly to recruit militants and send them to “Dar al-Harb (place of war),” referring to Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS established its own caliphate state.
The Abu Sayyaf hoisted a black flag similar to those being used by the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and other hard-line radical jihadist groups like the Boko Haram in Africa.
In Maguindanao and nearby provinces, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Ansarul Khilafah also pledged allegiance to the ISIS. Radical militants in Indonesia and Malaysia, including the Southeast Asian terror group Jema’ah Islamiyah had also done the same.
Just last month, the jihadists also released a video of the ISIS’s Alhayat Media Center which shows the Philippines as among countries in Southeast Asia they were planning to expand its “Khilafah (caliphate).”
The Abu Sayyaf is now using the Daesh flag and also the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and other radical groups in Lanao del Sur, also in the Muslim autonomous region where local militants of the Ghuraba (Strangers) – both the Ghuraba and Khilafah Islamiyah Movement are headed by a leader called Humam Abdul Najid, who was implicated in the 2013 Cagayan de Oro City bombings.
In October 2014, the jihadists Ghuraba had claimed that they established the Khilafah after courting other radical jihadists in the South to vow their allegiance to the Muslims’ caliph al-Baghdadi.
The Ghuraba is reportedly harboring foreign militants, including an agent of the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a group believed to be the original name of now infamous international threat group ISIS.
The Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and Ghuraba militants declared jihad or holy war in February 1, 2013 following a deadly against security forces in Marawi City. (Mohd Saaduddin)
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