Manila, Jan 21 (EFE).- The Filipino government won’t confirm it but several testimonies and reports on terrorism in recent months suggest the southern Philippines region, where radical Islamic groups are known to be active, has become the new haven of the Islamic State, or IS.
One of the strongest indications comes from a video that recently began circulating on the internet, showing around 30 heavily armed men declaring allegiance to the jihadist organization.
The armed men in the video include several known Islamic leaders from the southern island of Mindanao, such as Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Abu Anas al-Muhajir of the Ansar al-Shariah radical group, and Abu Sharifa of the Ansar al-Khilafa group.
Earlier too, rebel groups in the country have sent messages expressing support for the IS, also known as ISIS, but this is the first time they have come together to send a joint message.
“The ISIS-initiated merger of the fighting formations and unifications of the leaders (in the Philippines) will present an unprecedented challenge to the Manila government,” Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, told the media.
“With the proclamation of an ISIS branch in the southern Philippines, the ISIS influence and ideology is likely to grow” in the region, Gunaratna added.
He said the next step for the IS in southern Philippines will be to establish their own province in Mindanao.
The Filipino government, on the other hand, rejects this possibility, claiming the situation is not that serious.
“There remains no credible and direct connection (between the IS and Abu Sayyaf),” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Restituto Padilla had said.
“The recent pronouncement of (Abu Sayyaf) leader Isnilon Hapilon is part of their propaganda and does not necessarily reflect the existence of an ISIS-directed terror operation in the country,” Padilla added.
However, in December, the IS released a video on social networking sites showing training camps in the Philippines.
The images back up recent statements by authorities of areas that are worst-affected by Islamic radical militants in the southern Philippines.
According to figures released by Cotabato city’s Mayor Japal Guiani, the IS managed to recruit around 1,000 young people from southern Philippines in December.
He termed the situation alarming and said the security forces should investigate the matter seriously.
Moreover, the Filipino armed forces, after several clashes with rebel groups, have recovered IS flags, besides improvised explosive devices, communication radios, assault rifles, pistols and a range of documents.
Of the groups that have pledged allegiance to the IS, Abu Sayyaf is the most violent and has been held responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks and kidnappings in recent years.
Abu Sayyaf was created in 1991 by Afghanistan War veterans who fought against the former Soviet Union – and is among the most active rebel groups in southern Philippines – who did not take part in the peace process initiated by the government in 2014. EFE