Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS

Maria A. Ressa

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EXCLUSIVE: The ISIS ideology is spreading fast on social media, ' the new machine to recruit militants.'

LOYALTY TO THE ISLAMIC STATE. Senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon swears allegiance to ISIS

MANILA, Philippines – The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq or ISIS, is expanding its recruitment on social media in the Philippines.

On July 23, a video of senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon along with masked men was posted on YouTube. Hapilon carries a reward of up to $5 million from the US Rewards for Justice Program. He was indicted in the District of Columbia for “terrorist acts against United States nationals and other foreign nationals.” The FBI says he was “the deputy or second in command for the foreign terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf.”

The propaganda video begins with still photos establishing the notoriety of Hapilon: his encircled photo on posters of most wanted terrorists from the United States, which include al-Qaeda’s leaders. Al-Qaeda’s symbolic black flag, which is being used by extremist groups in more than 20 countries around the world (including the foreign fighters of ISIS), peppers the opening montage. (Read: Al-Qaeda’s black flag seized in ASG camp)

In a video clip that lasts a little more than 6 minutes, Hapilon, wearing a black gown, links arms with men, most of whom hide their faces. Using a combination of his native dialect, Yakan, and Arabic, Hapilon and his men swear allegiance or “bay’ah,” an oath, to IS and its head, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“We pledge bay’ah to Caliph Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Ibrahim Awwad Al-Qurashi Al-Husseini for loyalty and obedience in adversity and comfort,” says Hapilon, reading from a sheet of paper. The men, ostensibly members of the Abu Sayyaf, linking arms with him in the video recite the oath after him.

“We pledge to obey him on anything which our hearts desire or not and to value him more than anyone else,” Hapilon leads the men. “We will not take any emir other than him unless we see in him any obvious act of disbelief that could be questioned by Allah in the hereafter.”

Philippine officials as well as a former member of the Abu Sayyaf verify the identity of Hapilon.

This is not the first time Filipinos have said they joined and/or recruited for ISIS, although it’s unclear exactly what that means.

The first known instance of Filipino support on social media for ISIS was posted on July 2.  It shows Filipinos in prison, many of whom are members or former members of the Abu Sayyaf, gathering around a black flag and swearing allegiance to ISIS. 

Three days later, a second video was posted on Facebook.  Claiming to be members of Abu Sayyaf, about a dozen masked men speaking in Arabic said: “Our brothers in Faith, we are your brothers from Ummah Fi’e Sabilillah, the official media of al Harakatul al-Islamiyah [the official name of Abu Sayyaf].  We would like to inform everybody that we sincerely support our mujahideen brothers of ISIS.  We are willing to extend to them our right hand when their left hand is lost.”

To Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they said, “‘You are to us a replacement of our mother and father.’ Our aim is to join you to claim Iraq and As-Sham and to share the Caliphate by the will of Allah.”  That video was taken down before Filipino authorities could get a copy.

A third video is being investigated by authorities in Southeast Asia.  In a mix of languages including Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia and Filipino, the masked men claim to be throwing Filipino support behind ISIS, but at least one investigator says the men could be Indonesians pretending to be Filipinos.  The video was uploaded from Indonesia.

Recruiting Indonesians

A day before the video of Isnilon Hapilon was posted, the Islamic State posted an 8-minute video targeting to recruit Indonesians. 

The video declares the “good news” that “the Islamic State implements the Sharia of Allah in the entire land” and concludes with a call to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim.  (Read: Don’t join ISIS, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister tells Indonesians)

This is not the first call for recruits from Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population and a once active terrorist network that carried out Southeast Asia’s 9/11 and succeeding annual attacks until 2005. (READ: Indonesia’s evolving terror networks)

In July, jailed Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the emir of Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, once al-Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia, called on his supporters to join ISIS.  

JI’s goal was to create an Islamic Caliphate through parts of Southeast Asia and Australia.  After authorities captured or killed most its top and middle rank leaders, Ba’asyir founded what one anti-terrorism official calls the “reincarnation” of JI,  Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid or JAT.  (READ: Support ISIS, jailed Indonesian terror leader tells followers

On June 9, the day ISIS began its march to capture Baghdad, a video of Indonesian men in Syria was posted on YouTube.  Speaking in Bahasa Indonesia with snippets of Arabic, they urged Indonesians to join ISIS: “Let us fight in the path of Allah because it is our duty to do jihad in the path of Allah.” (READ: Southeast Asian recruits join jihadist ISIS)

Officials in the region say at least 60 Indonesians, 30 Malaysians, 2 Singaporeans and 2 Filipinos have fought or are fighting with ISIS.  Analysts say more than 12,000 Muslim extremists travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq in 3 years, more than the 10,000 who fought in Afghanistan in the late 80’s, the conflict that gave birth to al-Qaeda.

Authorities fear, like Afghanistan, fighters will bring the radical ideology and terror tactics home. It’s certainly brought a global diaspora of extremists together. Take Melbourne-born Musa Cerantonio, an ISIS cheerleader who effectively recruited militants to the ideology through social media. 

He was arrested and deported by Philippine authorities after he tweeted that he had joined the fight in Syria and exhorted other Muslims to do the same.  Australia, sources say, wanted to expose his lie.

Regardless of that, says Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, known by its Indonesian acronym, BNPT, social media is potent and, using the “Caliphate” of ISIS, could rejuvenate Southeast Asia’s terror networks.

“The names don’t matter, and they can change,” Mbai told me. “When they say they want an Islamic Caliphate, they are part of the same group with the same ideology.”

That ideology is spreading fast on social media, which Mbai called “the new machine to recruit militants.” –



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Maria Ressa


Maria A. Ressa

Maria Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for more than 37 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, From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism, and How to Stand up to a Dictator.