MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, November 28, confirmed links between the Islamic State (ISIS) and the homegrown Maute terror group that last week occupied the abandoned municipal hall of Butig town in Lanao Del Sur.
The group, which raised the black flag of the ISIS, is now the target of intense military offensives. (READ: AFP sends elite troops to retake Lanao town from Maute)
“We are not good today because finally, finally, the intelligence community advised me that ISIS has vitally connected to the group in the Philippines called the Maute. There’s already war now in Lanao,” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang.
Duterte did not elaborate.
It was the first high-level government confirmation of the links between a local terror group and the ISIS.
Duterte’s statement comes as the military continues to maintain in public statements that the Maute terror group has not established direct links, arguing that its attacks are meant to court international media attention and attract ISIS support.
On Sunday, November 27, Armed Forces public affairs office chief Colonel Edgar Arevalo said: “The Group has reportedly raised the ISIS flag which was expected since they have long been professing allegiance to the foreign terror group. This is still part of the Maute Group’s agenda in courting support and encouraging similar minded individuals to support ISIS.”
Despite military denials, it has been feared that ISIS setbacks in the Middle East – where the international terrorist group wants to establish a caliphate – could divert fighters in the region from Syria to the southern Philippines. (READ: ISIS to declare a province in Mindanao?)
The Maute group is one of several armed organizations in Mindanao which have pledged allegiance to ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
A report recently released by a Jakarta-based think tank Institute for Policy Analysis of Confict (IPAC) did not establish direct links between the Maute group and ISIS, however. It only went as far as concluding that the Maute group has links with pro-ISIS fighters in the region.
Aside from the Maute group, the report identified 3 other pro-ISIS groups in Mindanao with links to extremists in Southeast Asia.
- The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) faction in Basilan has been joined by a small faction of fighters from Malaysia
- The Ansarul Khilafa Philippines (AKP) has strategists from Indonesia and links with Syria
- The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), based in Maguindanao has been coddling Southeast Asian fugitives
IPAC warned of “more deadly violence” in the Philippines because of the activities of these groups.
Three members of the Maute group were arrested in October, accused of carrying out the September bombing that left 15 people dead in Davao, President Duterte’s hometown and Mindanao’s largest city.
Government forces captured a Maute training camp in the town in June after a 10-day gun battle that left 4 soldiers and dozens of militants dead, according to an army account.
The Mautes, once described by the military as a small-time extortion gang, attacked a remote army outpost in Butig in February, triggering a week of fighting that the military said left 6 soldiers and 12 militants dead.
The group also beheaded two employees of a local sawmill in April, according to the military. – with reports from Agence France-Presse