MARAWI CITY, Philippines – The Islamic State (ISIS) is now in the Philippines, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon was recognized in December 2016 by ISIS and has since been receiving funds from the international terrorist organization.
"They are already recognized and the occupation of Marawi is another step to prove [their] worth as part of ISIS. They intended to raise the ISIS flag in the provincial capitol," Lorenzana told Rappler on Friday, June 2.
Other local terror groups like the Maute Group that combined forces with Hapilon are also part of ISIS now, he said.
Hapilon was the target of a botched military raid that triggered government clashes with combined forces of the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group. The military said the raid served to foil a terror plan to seize Marawi City. (READ: How a military raid triggered Marawi attacks)
To be clear, Rappler asked Lorenzana, “They really are ISIS now, sir?”
He replied, “Yes, they are now.”
Lorenzana said ISIS ordered Hapilon to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
"He was ordered to Lanao del Sur (Butig) in early January to set up a wilayat (Islamic province) there," he said.
"ISIS thought that Lanao del Sur was a better place for expansion because the area is bigger than Basilan and there are more Muslims there. Since their recognition as part of ISIS, Hapilon has received funds from ISIS. Also, Marawi is an Islamic City."
Lorenzana made the conclusion ahead of military officers Rappler earlier spoke with.
According to military officers who have been watching the spread of ISIS ideology in the Philippines, the "unification" of forces is the 3rd of 4 stages that groups wishing to join ISIS' international network need to complete.
The 4th stage is establishing a wilayat, or a territory. They said the Abu Sayyaf and Maute have joined forces to be able to establish a wilayat in Marawi City, the new target, after repeated attempts in Butig town. (READ: Maute Group waves ISIS black flag on Marawi streets)
On Friday, at least 37 people were killed when a supposed "lone gunman" fired gunshots and set ablaze gaming tables at the casino floor of Resorts World Manila.
SITE Intelligence Group reported that Friday's incident was claimed by ISIS, particularly a "Filipino operative" of ISIS.
SITE said: "An Islamic State (IS) Filipino operative who provides daily updates on the ongoing clashes in Marawi stated that the group is responsible for the attack at Resorts World Manila in Pasay, Philippines."
According to a New York Times journalist who has access to ISIS channels, the person who claimed the attack in Manila is the same person who posted the video of Marawi City priest Father Teresito Soganub.
But was ISIS or the combined forces of the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group responsible for the Resorts World attack?
Lorenzana said it is under investigation.
"The police and intelligence people are investigating. We are not yet ruling out that this is an ISIS act. It is so easy for ISIS to claim responsibility. Whether true, or ISIS is just riding onto a done act, we still do not know," the defense chief told Rappler in a text message.
The incident in Manila happened on the 10th day of the Marawi crisis. – Rappler.com