U.S. tags 'ISIS-Philippines' as foreign terrorist group

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United States tagged local armed groups behind last year's Marawi siege as "ISIS-Philippines" and designated them as belonging to a "foreign terrorist organization (FTO)."

"The Department of State has designated 3 ISIS-affiliated groups – ISIS-West Africa, ISIS-Philippines, and ISIS-Bangladesh – as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs)," the US State Department said in a statement released on Tuesday, February 27.

The designation means Americans are "prohibited from engaging in transactions" with these groups.

"The groups' property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked. In addition, it is a crime to knowingly provide, or attempt or conspire to provide, material support or resources to the organizations," the US State Department said.

It also cited videos showing the late Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the leaders of the Maute Group pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). (READ: FAST FACTS: What you should know about the Maute Group)

"In June 2016, ISIS published a video of militants in the Philippines pledging allegiance to ISIS. In the video, militants encouraged other Muslims to join the terrorist group and support ISIS's efforts in the region under the command of now-deceased SDGT Isnilon Hapilon – recognized by ISIS as the leader of ISIS-Philippines," the US State Department said.

"The Maute Group declared its allegiance to ISIS in 2014 and is an integral part of ISIS-Philippines. The Maute Group is responsible for the siege of the City of Marawi in the Philippines," it added.

The US also tagged the Maute Group to be behind the September 2016 Davao market bombing and the November 2016 foiled bombing near the US embassy in Manila.

Philippine defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the US declaration will help the country's efforts against the groups.

"They will be denied access to the US financial system and will face sanctions as may be deemed appropriate, making it more difficult for them to conduct their activities in the Philippines and abroad," Andolong said.

The military also welcomed it. Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Bienvenido Datuin said the declaration will facilitate close monitoring of the "money trail, financial sources, logistics lines, and conduits of terror groups in foreign countries that may have connections with local violent extremists."

Malacañang hailed the decision to formally recognize the Maute Group as an affiliate of ISIS and its inclusion in the US' list of terrorists as "positive developments" in the campaign against terrorism.

The move, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a statement, "shows the solidarity and resolve of the international community to flush out evil forces to make the world safe and secure."

Other Philippine groups in the US FTO list are the Abu Sayyaf Group, which was added to the list in 1997; and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA), which was included in 2002, upon the request of the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. – Rappler.com