Online preacher Musa Cerantonio leaves Philippines to join ISIS?

Maria A. Ressa
Online preacher Musa Cerantonio leaves Philippines to join ISIS?
'This will be a fresh factor to call all radical militants to join ISIS,' says the head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, known by its Indonesian acronym, BNPT

JAKARTA, Indonesia – One of the fiercest Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cheerleaders and recruiter for jihad in Syria and Iraq, Musa Cerantonio, tweeted on July 1 that he would join the “Khilafah” or Caliphate and jihad in Ash-Sham, a historical name for Syria.

On July 3, he tweeted he had arrived:


Australian born and an effective proselytizer online and on social media, 29-year-old Cerantonio is a Christian convert to Islam, an example of the complex challenges authorities face today.

Authorities from the Philippines and Australia told Rappler Cerantonio had been in the Philippines for nearly a year, sighted in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga, pushing Muslims on social media to join the jihad.

A recent study said he was one of the two most influential voices providing “inspiration and guidance” to foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. One in 4 foreign fighters followed Cerantonio’s Twitter account, the study added, and more than 92% of his tweets involved interaction. 

Which was what happened when his account, dormant for nearly 3 weeks, tweeted praise and support for the Caliphate announced by ISIS and announced he would travel to join them.

 





Fresh factor

“This will be a fresh factor to call all radical militants to join ISIS,” said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia’s National Counter-Terrorism Agency, known by its Indonesian acronym, BNPT. 

More Muslim fighters have now travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight than Afghanistan in the late 80’s, and it’s worrying authorities around the world.

“ISIS will be more dangerous than Afghanistan,” Mbai told me. “We know the situation in Syria and Iraq is now very serious, and there are so many weapons.  We know that ISIS had some military training for their fight to establish this Islamic Caliphate. They will be more skillfull.”

Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, has reason to worry. Afghan veterans returned home to Indonesia and established Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, once al-Qaeda’s arm in Southeast Asia. 

The Bali bombings in 2002 killed more than 200 people and was followed by annual terrorist attacks until 2005. 

Numerous plots and sporadic attacks continued through the years even as authorities dismantled the terror network. Mbai is emphatic when he lumps JI with JAT, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, which he calls its latest evolution. He links both groups to ISIS and al-Qaeda.

“The names don’t matter, and they can change,” he said. “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.”

For foreign fighters, Cerantonio is among the most effective. His Facebook page is the third “most liked” among fighters, according to the same study.

Authorities from the Philippines and Australia told Rappler Cerantonio had been in the Philippines for nearly a year, sighted in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga, pushing Muslims on social media to join the jihad.

He was more effective and active on Facebook, where he taunted authorities on June 27.

“Apparently, the Australian Federal Police are looking for me,” he posted.  “Let’s see how well they can hunt.”

“Have fun finding me,” he wrote in another post.  “I’ll be waiting for you or whichever dogs you send.”

As late as July 1, sources told Rappler Cerantonio was in the Philippines. 

There’s no independent verification of his tweets arriving in “As-Sham,” but his tweets and the reaction online continue to push Muslims to join the jihad. – Rappler.com

 

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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.