Manila: Some one hundred Filipino-Muslims who have joined Abu Bakr Baghdadi’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) could come back and spread violence in the Philippines, former President Fidel Ramos has said.
The militants have been trained, inspired, and recruited by 12 other Southeast Asian Islamists who were hiding in the southern Philippines for more than 10 years, sources told Gulf News.
“At least a hundred of our young Filipino-Muslims have infiltrated Iraq where they get training and they can launch jihad when they come back to the Philippines,” Ramos said.
“President Benigno Aquino should focus on an anti-terror plan,” recommended Ramos, the country’s first career military officer to become head of state. He held the office from 1992 to 1998.
Meanwhile, at least 12 members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — the Southeast Asian conduit of Al Qaida — among them Malaysians, Indonesians, and Singaporeans — are still hiding in the Southern Philippines, a military source who requested anonymity told Gulf News.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which broke away from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2008, have given sanctuary to the Southeast Asian Islamists in exchange for training in bomb-making and insurgent strategies, the same source said.
“They have been responsible for the recruitment of young members of the ASG and BIFF to Iraq and Syria,” said the source, without revealing the date when the Filipino-Muslims left the southern Philippines for jihad training abroad.
Only five of the 12 Southeast Asian Islamists hiding in the southern Philippines were identified — Malaysian Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as Marwan; Amin Buco, another Malaysian, a.k.a. Abu Jihad; Singaporean Muawiyah Anjala, a.k.a. Abdullah Ali; and two Indonesians, Qayi and Sa’ad.
Their presence in the south was confirmed when the wives of Marwan, Qayi and Sa’ad were arrested in Sulu province in 2013, the source said.
ASG commander Khair Mundos told investigators, after his arrest in Manila in June this year, that he saw Marwan in BIFF’s camp. He also said the ASG is divided with several factions.
Last week, a video-clip uploaded on YouTube showed members of ASG and BIFF expressing allegiance with Baghdadi’s ISIL.
In one video-clip, ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon read a statement declaring this alliance.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry denied that BIFF members were sent to Iraq and Syria, but added they would be sent if they are needed there.
Misry also vowed that Southeast Asian Islamists would not follow the style of Bagdhadi, who is known for his resolve and brutality.
Scholars focused on Islamists told Gulf News that members of Philippines’ ASG and the BIFF were known to be allied with Al Qaida’s former leader, the late Osama bin Laden.
“This is the reason why Philippine authorities were not afraid that they would be recruited to the ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” said the same analyst, adding that Baghdadi did not belong to Bin Laden’s direct line of succession in Al Qaida.
At the same time, the ASG and its direct link, the JI, have been reportedly weakened.
Top JI leader Umar Patek was captured before Bin Laden was killed by a US special operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan on March 10, 2010.
Another JI leader, Dulmatin, was killed in 2010.
Meanwhile, the group’s key strategist and fund-raiser Noordin Mohammad Top was killed in 2009; while JI founder Abu Bakir Bashir was imprisoned in Indonesia in 2003.
The JI is blamed for attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore, including bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005; a suicide car bombing outside the Australia Embassy in Jakarta in 2004; a car bombing of Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003; and several bomb attacks in Metro Manila.