SUPPORTERS of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have made schools and a university in Mindanao their hunting ground as they continue to recruit new members, according to an imam or high priest in a Cotabato mosque who was “invited” to join the jihadist group.
The imam told The Manila Times that members of a Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror cell have organized themselves into a recruitment group and are wooing the youth, particularly students in private and public schools aged 16 to 18, to embrace the cause being propagated by the ISIS.
The priest’s claim was confirmed by a teenager who was recruited to join the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The 14-year-old boy, a student of a private school in Cotabato City, told The Times that he and several of his classmates were recruited by Abdulrahman Macapaar or Commander Bravo, head of the 103rd MILF Brigade.
The boy said he and nine other teenagers underwent military training in a secret camp in Lanao del Norte.
He added that Commander Bravo indoctrinated them and told them to support the ISIS. They were also told to invite their friends and other young people.
Bravo figured in a series of attacks on various military detachments in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte in 2003. He and former 104th MILF Brigade Base Commander Ameril Umbra Kato launched the attacks when the Memorandum Of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Bravo is recognized by the MILF central committee as the 103rd regional field commander. He is responsible for recruiting young fighters.
The imam, who asked that his identity be hidden, said Bravo’s group urged him to support the ISIS. He added that ISIS recruiters are also targeting students and professors of Mindanao State University (MSU) because if educators joined the group, it will be easier to indoctrinate young minds and gain more support for the jihadist group. MSU has branches in the cities of Marawi, Iligan and General Santos.
A retired police intelligence officer also on Monday confirmed the ongoing recruitment of ISIS followers in several provinces in Mindanao.
The former officer, Rodolfo Mendoza, said based on information that his group gathered, some foreign jihadists are looking for more recruits to join their cause of establishing a caliphate in the region.
These foreign jihadists are being assisted by some members of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), he added.
Mendoza, who retired from the police service in 2008, is the president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR). He has been credited for uncovering Oplan Bujinka, a plot by al-Qaeda-linked militants to launch attacks in the US.
The retired police intelligence officer said the ISIS recruitment is strong in Lanao provinces, Zamboanga peninsula and the provinces of Basilan and Sulu. He added that recruitment is also done on the Internet.
“Filipino Muslims are considered members once they pledge their allegiance,” Mendoza said.
He added that Filipino Muslims who have pledged their allegiance to ISIS are now considered part of the “Islamic Caliphate.”
“All militant Islamic organizations are now part of the Islamic caliphate army,” Mendoza said. He added that among the militant groups that have pledged their allegiance or “baia’ to ISIS are the ASG, JI and Khilafa Islamiyah Movement (KIM).
“There’s now debates on what category Philippine militant organizations belong. Are they adjunct, branch, support groups or affiliate?” Mendoza said.
He explained that the difference between ISIS and al-Qaeda is that the former took huge territories in Iraq and Syria. Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda never proclaimed a caliphate.
“It’s very clear that (ISIS) compositions are multinationals,” Mendoza said.
Over the weekend, a source from the intelligence community said a Malaysian JI member, Amin Baco, is among the ardent ISIS sympathizers who are in the country.
But Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor, the newly-appointed spokesman for the Philippine National Police, would not confirm or deny Baco’s presence in Mindanao.
He told reporters in a news briefing in Camp Crame in Quezon City that any issue related to terrorism should be coursed to the Anti-Terrorism Council.