Experts warn PH: Don’t underestimate ISIS

At least 3 Malaysians are identified among the Filipinos in the video: University Malaya comparative religion lecturer Mahmud Ahmad, known as Abu Handzalah; and, former municipal council employee Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee. Both are on the Malaysian police’s wanted list since April 2014. 

The third Malaysian is the leader of the Ansar Sharia Battalion, Abu Anas al-Muhajir. Abu Anas is Mohammad Najib Hussein, an engineer and sundry shop owner, whom the Philippine military claims was killed in Basilan in December 2015. There has been no independent verification and no body recovered at this time.

After the undated ceremony in the video, the Islamic State said: “The unification of the Mujahideen under one leadership and banner of the Caliphate is seen as a huge threat to the tyrants of the Philippines and is an important step in order to liberate areas in Southeast Asia in general.”

Maxwell emphasized that the Philippine government has tools to address this.

“I wonder if the government could co-opt the MILF to address this threat as ISIS must be nearly as much a threat to them as to the Philippine government," he said in an email.

The MILF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group, has been negotiating for peace with the Philippine government for nearly two decades. In 2014, both sides signed a peace agreement that proposed the creation of an autonomous region in the south, but the bill it created, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), has failed to pass Congress. 

That is creating feelings of insecurity and emphasizing failed promises for the 5% Muslim minority in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation.

Military denial

“They are not ISIS,” said AFP public affairs chief Colonel Noel Detoyato on January 11. He was echoed a day later by military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla, who told reporters, “There is no credible, verified and direct link established and the possibility of establishing a satellite is unlikely.”

Barton warned against underestimating an enemy as sophisticated as ISIS.

“It would be unwise to underestimate ISIS and the growing threat in the region,” warned Barton. “They have been effective – more effective than any other terrorist group in history – at recruiting.”

“You have vulnerable rural populations that are being extorted. They’re being exploited and lack the defences to protect themselves,” added Richmond. “These groups are largely able to operate with impunity until they cross the line, like posting a video - at which point they’re usually strong enough to hurt the AFP, and there really isn’t any inter-agency, governmental and international effort to mitigate this. And that’s the problem.”

Shift to elections and China

Starting January 10, commanders of the Philippine National Police have been reassigned to guard against election violence across the Philippines, preparing for the May 2016 presidential elections, when more than 54 million voters will elect more than 18,000 officials.

It doesn’t help that the US special forces which once worked in Sulu, Basilan and Central Mindanao against the Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups since 2002 ended their mission last year. The new agreement between the Philippines and the United States, declared constitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court Tuesday, January 12, redeploys forces against the maritime threat posed by China in the South China Sea (in Philippine waters, it’s the West Philippine Sea).

“The US remains committed to working with our coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL,” US Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer told Rappler when asked about the video. ISIL is what the US government uses to refer to ISIS. “We continue to monitor the issue of ISIL influence globally, including in the Philippines in collaboration with our partners in the police and military.”

“The Philippine military commanders never brief anything but success, and I don’t fault them,” said Richmond, who has seen the threat landscape evolve.

“The marines down there are the only ones doing anything for counter-radicalization so I want to cast them in a good light. However, they aren’t the tools for this job. They probably only cover 10-15% of the entire mission. The fault really lies with local government, the national government, and obviously the international parties that are concerned with this.”

Below is the translation of the Ba'yat or Pledge of Allegiance:

In the name of Allah, the most gracious and the most merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe. Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Mohammed and his family and upon his nible companions.

God said in the Koran, "And hold fast to the rope of Allah and do not be disunited." The messenger of Allah said, "Whoever dies without having ba'yat on his neck, he dies the death of ignorance."

We declare our pledge to the Caliph, Sheikh Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi Al-Awwad bin Ibrahim al Hussayni al Qurashi, to hear and obey in hardship and ease, and in times when we are active and otherwise, to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute with people in authority, and to speak the truth wherever we are, and not to fear in Allah, the blame of a blamer, and not to disagree with He to whom we listen and obey, except in explicit disbelief for which we have proof from Allah. 

Allah is the witness to what we say. 

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!



Maria A. Ressa

Maria Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for nearly 35 years. As Rappler's co-founder, executive editor and CEO, she has endured constant political harassment and arrests by the Duterte government. For her courage and work on disinformation and 'fake news,' Maria was named Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, was among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and has also been named one of Time's Most Influential Women of the Century. She was also part of BBC's 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2019 and Prospect magazine's world's top 50 thinkers, and has won many awards for her contributions to journalism and human rights. Before founding Rappler, Maria focused on investigating terrorism in Southeast Asia. She opened and ran CNN's Manila Bureau for nearly a decade before opening the network's Jakarta Bureau, which she ran from 1995 to 2005. She wrote Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia and From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism.