MANILA, Philippines – A number of jihadist groups in the Philippines are now officially recognized by the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL, or Da'esch), but the terror organization stopped short of declaring a wilayat or province in the country or in Southeast Asia.
A video released by the ISIS-linked, Russian-language outlet Al Furat Media over the weekend showed Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Isnilon Hapilon and two other groups pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the terror group.
Also seen in the video are Abu Anas al Muhajir and Abu Harith al Filipini. Al Muhajir is identified as the leader of the Katibat Ansar al Sharia, while Al Filipini represented the group Katibat Marakah al Ansar.
Muhajir, whose real name is Mohd Najib Husen, was killed in a firefight in Basilan in December, and the video included some combat footage from the incident.
The video also showed ISIS officially recognizing the allegiance of other extremist groups in the region, including the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor (MIT).
The MIT, also known as the Mujahideen of Eastern Indonesia, is led by Santoso, who pledged loyalty to ISIS back in July 2014, and has been designated by the US as a terror organization in September 2015.
The release of the video could presage the announcement of a wilayat or province in the region soon, which came out a month after the deadly Jakarta suicide attacks.
ISIS has officially recognized several provinces outside its base in Iraq and Syria, within Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghatnistan, Pakistan and the Northern Caucasus.
The declaration of allegiance is also in line with the 5-step process ISIS follows in its ambitions to expand beyond Iraq and Syria.
"First, raising awareness of the Islamic Caliphate through propaganda," terror expert Rohan Gunaratna explained to Rappler early January. "Second, a series of groups pledging their allegiance to the 'Caliph.' Third, selection of groups to form a province. Fourth, the selection of a leader to lead the ISIS branch, and fifth, the ISIS proclamation of a designated area as a province of the caliphate."
Acts of terror or brutality usually follow a group's declaration of allegiance to ISIS, as a show of commitment and to bolster their chances for funding and support from the main organization.
This is the latest in a string of videos linking ISIS to extremist organizations in the Philippines.
In January, a video from Mindanao started circulating on the dark web jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam, which showed Hapilon marching with other extremist leaders from Sulu and Basilan, showing the consolidation of various groups pledging allegiance to ISIS. (READ: ISIS to declare a province in Mindanao?)
In December 2015, a video of Filipino jihadists allegedly training in the southern Philippines was released by an ISIS-linked account. (READ: ISIS’ global ambitions and plans for Southeast Asia)
Earlier in 2015, the group Ansar al Khilafah, also based in the Philippines, released a video announcing their loyalty to ISIS. The said group is reportedly led by a certain Abu Sharifah, and is based in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani.
In recent years, a number of extremist groups around the world have shifted allegiance from Al-Qaeda to ISIS.
ASG has traditionally been linked to Al-Qaeda, and it is still unclear how many members of the extremist group has pledged allegiance to ISIS. – Rappler.com