Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ISIS in the Philippines

By Tony Lopez
Visiting Europe on Sept. 18, 2014, President Benigno S. Aquino III was asked during an open forum with European investors whether the radical jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has spread to the Philippines. 
The chief executive gave a safe answer.  He said:
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front “have said they themselves are resisting IS encroachment into the Bangsamoro. They have not pledged allegiance to the so called caliphate.”
“What we have in the Philippines currently are people who used to say they were affiliates of Al Qaeda. Now that IS seems to be on the ascendancy, they are now saying they are affiliates of IS.  And if tomorrow a new group comes about, I assume they will join that group or they will be the ones forming that new group to take over,” the President added.
The MILF, Aquino explained, will police the Bangsamoro region. “They know the players in that particular region.  They stay there. They are empowered to resolve longstanding conflicts.”
As to reports by neighboring countries that some of their citizens have gone to the conflict areas like Iraq or Syria, mostly by way of Turkey, the President said, “we have had no hard evidence Filipinos are already engaged (with the IS).”
Aquino, however, acknowledged there is a significant Filipino population, 1.2 million people, in just two countries alone, in the Middle East, who might be recruited and brainwashed by IS organizers.
Still, he said, there had been no cases of Filipino suicide bombers.  And “when there is a conflict, it usually devolves into a personal level, rather than ideology or religious extremism.”
From the President’s answers, one can conclude IS has not spread to the southern Philippines.  And if it has, there is little to worry about.  The MILF will take care of it.  In any case, Aquino conceded, “this threat is a threat we all have to face.”
The United States has vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants who holed up of a swath of land from Syria across the border and deep into western and northern Iraq. 
The air strikes within Iraq, according to President Obama,  “have protected American personnel and facilities, killed [Islamic State] fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.”
In June, ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and declared a caliphate.
ISIS began as a small motley group organized as Sunni resistance to America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.  After setbacks, it became a force to reckon with when civil war in Syria erupted in 2011.  By last year, it had occupied eastern Syria under the name ISIS.  This year, ISIS changed its name to the State of Islamic Caliphate (SIC), betraying its plan to rule the Muslim world.  So now, IS, ISIS and Caliphate are interchangeable.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls ISIS “an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.” ISIS, says Gen. John Allen, a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, represents “a clear and present danger”, one that affects “the region and potentially the world as we know it.”
The chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, thinks ISIS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed, 90 percent of Americans believe IS a serious threat to vital American interests.
It is easy to assume ISIS now operates in the Philippines.  Muslims in the country have demonstrated the kind of rebellion and militancy that make them susceptible to the extreme fundamentalism, terrorism and violence that ISIS espouses.
Terrorism specialist and scholar Prof. Rommel Banlaoi has compiled videos of Philippine groups displaying the black flag of the ISIS in Mindanao.  He says possible members of ISIS now are members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a spinoff of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; and the Khilafa Islamiya in Mindanao.   
As early as 2010, these groups were already displaying the ISIS black flag in Mindanao.  In 2012, a Filipino jihadist displayed an ISIS black flag on video.  He has links to al Zharkawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is the forerunner of ISIS.  On Feb. 1, 2014, the Philippine military discovered a black flag in a BIFF camp in Maguindanao after a week-long offensive.
“If there are ISIS members in Mindanao, for me, they would be the members of the umbrella organization called Khilafa Islamiya in Mindanao (KIM),” says Banlaoi.  The name alone speaks for itself, Khilafa Islamiya means Islamic caliphate.
Banlaoi says the vanguard of the Islamic caliphate movement in Mindanao would be the Khilafa Islamiya Mindanao (KIM).  “If you are looking for ISIS members or candidates or sympathizers, the common candidates would be members and sympathizers of KIM.”
On YouTube in August, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF were shown pledging support for the Middle East rebels.  The BIFF claim to have an alliance with ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Banlaoi categorizes possible ISIS members in the Philippines into three—formal members with direct link and communication with ISIS, individuals and groups inspired by ISIS who may now carry out violent actions on their on or in the name of ISIS, and bandwagoners or free-riders on the popularity of ISIS to justify their violent acts.
Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Office of Strategic Studies, says the rise of ISIS on the global stage has strategic consequences on the local, regional and global security environment.  Locally, these are what the Armed Forces of the Philippines calls “peace spoilers”.
Kakilala says the Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and KIM “may be further radicalized and may mutate into larger, more sophisticated and more lethal terrorist organizations.”
Such radicalism “may further complicate the concerted efforts of the Philippine government to forge lasting peace in Mindanao through the peace accords with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.
Reports say 200 Filipinos are said to have left the country and joined the self-proclaimed Sunni Muslim “caliphate”.
Former President Fidel Ramos has said “at least 100 of our young Filipino Muslims have already infiltrated Iraq to undergo training to return and be jihadists or militants.”

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