BULUAN, Maguindanao: “ISIS is a product of desperation,” President Rodrigo Duterte said during his visit here late Friday, virtually confirming the presence of the jihadist groups in the country.
“They exist in Sulu and even contaminated the nearby province of Basilan,” Duterte told hundreds of people present during his visit here. He did not elaborate.
ISIS is an another acronym for the radical group of Islamic State in the Middle East, staging atrocities in other regions.
Basilan and Sulu are among the provinces in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) located near the border of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, where government forces were fighting with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) since January as violence renewed in the region including skirmishes, kidnappings and beheading of hostages.
The ASG, which pledged allegiance to the IS, recently beheaded Canadian Robert Hall and John Ridsdel.
The jihadists are still holding Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and several other nationals.
One of the hostages, Filipina Maritess Flor, who was kidnapped in Samal Island, Davao del Norte on September 21, 2015 along with Hall, Ridsdel and Sekkingstad was released earlier.
Private negotiation for Sekkingstad’s safe release was underway, officials said.
The notorious IS recently named ASG’s chief Isnilon Hapilon, who also heads the group’s faction al-Harakat al-Islamiyah in Basilan, as commander covering its supporter jihadists networks in Southeast Asian countries. Hapilon has a $5 million bounty on his head under the United States (US) Rewards for Justice Program.
A senior member of Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), Abdul Rahman, appeared in a recent IS video saying that Hapilon was chosen by the self-proclaimed caliph IS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi as the commander in Southeast Asia.
The IS, which controls large-swathes areas in Syria and Iraq, had established a caliphate form of government three years after civil war started in Syria. The group had claimed responsibility for several attacks this year in Basilan, Sulu and Lanao del Sur.
In his meeting with top military and police officials at the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao headquarters in Zamboanga City on Thursday, Duterte said more government troops are needed to put an end to the “embarrassing” terrorism in the country.
“It started many, many years ago. It’s like we’re being slapped on the face, every time there is a foreigner executed or a local … it embarrasses the country,” he said.
The president said 10,000 to 20,000 additional troops would be needed to combat terror groups in various areas in Mindanao.
The president also met with other top security officials at the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, which has jurisdiction over Central Mindanao, hours before he visited here where he also met with other military officials from the Army’s Eastern Mindanao command.
Duterte urged Muslims not to be swayed by the IS ideology, saying that the jihadists in Syria and Iraq were “driven by hatred”.
He said the ISIS members were “desperate” after the fall of leaderships in Iraq and Libya and the continued oppression against the Syrian people, specially the plight of the children. That could be the reason why “ISIS is everywhere,” he said.