MANILA, Philippines – Philippine defense chief Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the leadership of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria made direct contact with Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon back in December 2016 to instruct him to find a suitable area to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
“Mayroon silang contact ngayon (They’ve made contact). One of the leaders in Basilan, Isnilon Hapilon, moved to Central Mindanao allegedly on the behest of ISIS people in the Middle East to find out if Central Mindanao is more conducive to the establishment of their wilayat (caliphate),” Lorenzana said on Thursday, January 26, in a press briefing.
Citing intelligence reports, Lorenzana said ISIS finds the islands of Sulu and Basilan, where the Abu Sayyaf Group traditionally operates, too small for a caliphate. “Madali sila maipit sa (They can be easily trapped in the) area,” he said.
He said Isnilon appears to be considering the area of Central Mindanao and is rallying the support of the Maute Group that is based there.
Lorenzana said this is why the military has focused its operations on the terror groups there. “Fortunately we found out that he (Isnilon) was there so we are now pursuing him,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said the military confirmed communications between the ISIS and Hapilon after he was monitored moving from his base in Basilan to Lanao del Norte.
Isnilon brought a small group of his men to Lanao. “Not all. He brought a small group of his people. The bulk of his men are still in Basilan. I think he went there to see if they can establish a caliphate,” Lorenzana said.
The area in Central Mindanao is also a known territory of the Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that finalized a peace deal with the previous Aquino administration and is counting on the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to implement.
‘We won’t allow it’
Lorenzana assured the public that the military will not allow ISIS to establish a caliphate in the Philippines.
“They want to establish cells or an Islamic province or wilayat. Now, we will see to it that they’re not going to establish those kinds of organizations here,” Lorenzana said.
Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa reported as early as January 2016 about an ISIS video talking about plans to create a caliphate in Mindanao. Hapilon himself had long ago sworn allegiance to the ISIS although the military said there were no direct links until now.
A ranking US military officer also recently warned against terror attacks in the Asia Pacific as ISIS loses ground in the Middle East and its combatants escape for new areas that will welcome them. – Rappler.com