Abu Sayyaf eyeing Central Mindanao as IS caliphate—Lorenzana
The Abu Sayyaf is considering Central Mindanao as one of the possible areas to establish a caliphate of the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed.
In a press briefing on Thursday, he said that the IS leadership has directly communicated with Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon for him to find a caliphate (wilayat or province) in the Philippines.
“Meron silang contact ngayon and in fact one of the leaders in Basilan, Isnilon Hapilon, he moved to Central Mindanao allegedly, on the behest of the ISIS people in Middle East to find out if ‘yung Central Mindanao is conducive to the establishment of an organization, yung ISIS nila,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Based on intelligence reports, Basilan and Jolo in Southern Mindanao are too small for the IS to set up a caliphate there.
“Madali silang maipit dun eh. They are looking for a bigger area so ang nangyari ngayon, nandun si Isnilon trying to rally the Maute to support the ISIS or to become part of the ISIS,” Lorenzana said.
Hapilon reportedly brought a small group of men with him to Central Mindanao but most of his men are still in Basilan.
“I think he went there just to see the area to find out if it is conducive for them to move there and establish what you call the caliphate. Fortunately, we find out that he is there so we are pursuing him there in Butig,” the defense chief said.
The military has launched its operations against the terrorist groups in Central Mindanao, particularly in Butig, Lanao del Sur, where the Maute group are based. They are also continuing their operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
The Maute group has also pledged allegiance to the IS and have been displaying their flags in Butig.
A video of Hapilon pledging allegiance to the IS previously circulated online. He was also reportedly the overall leader of the IS branch in the Philippines.
The IS, an international terror organization, is known for its propaganda and influence, with videos of its brutal tactics, such as bombings, stoning, and beheadings, posted on the Internet.
A US military officer recently warned of possible increased attacks in Asia as IS fighters flee from the Middle East amid US operations against them.
“Wala na silang mapuntahan so they are escaping and coming back to where they came from. So that’s what they want to do, establish small cells but eventually will establish Islamic provinces or wilayat,” Lorenzana said.
Despite the looming threat of an establishment of an IS province in the Philippines, Lorenzana assured that it will not happen.
“We will see to it that they will not be able to establish those kind of organization here, the ISIS,” he said. JE
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