THE Islamic State (IS) has a new “emir” in Southeast Asia, Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa said on Monday.
De la Rosa said Amin Baco replaced Isnilon Hapilon, Abu Sayyaf group leader, who was killed, along with Maute group founder Omar Maute, in October during a military assault in Marawi City.
De la Rosa said Baco, identified as a Malaysian terrorist, fought with the Maute group during the five-month siege of Marawi.
”We have received reports that Amin Baco is still in the group. He assumed the position as the new Emir,” de la Rosa said in a press briefing in Camp Crame.
De la Rosa said the whereabouts of Baco were not known but that he was last seen in the main battle area of Marawi with 30 other stragglers.
“It’s either he is on his way out or he had already left. It’s still unconfirmed,” de la Rosa said.
De la Rosa relayed the police intelligence report that Baco was last seen with three accomplices: two Indonesians and one Malaysian. He said the companions were still operating in Marawi.
“Three companions were with Baco. Two Indonesians and one Malaysian,” de la Rosa said.
De la Rosa reiterated that Baco not only controlled the 30 remaining Maute stragglers in Marawi, but also the whole IS faction in Southeast Asia since Hapilon was killed.
“He’s not only leading the remaining stragglers, but also the whole Southeast Asia. He assumed the position of Isnilon Hapilon as Emir in Southeast Asia,” de la Rosa said.
Baco, also known as “Abu Jihad”, is a Malaysian national from Sabah, according to published reports.
The Straits Times said that Baco, 34, has been on Malaysia’s “most wanted list” since 2006.
An unidentified intelligence officer in the PNP identified Baco as a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group.
Baco was one of five JI members under the protection of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Baco was also reported to have founded the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), along with Abu Abdulrahman al-Filibini and Humam Abdulnajid, several years ago. This movement pledged allegiance to IS.
In 2015, according to a US Army report, Baco was also one of the three targets in the Mamasapano raid, alongside fellow Malaysians Zulkifli Bin Hir (alias “Marwan) and Abdul Basit Usman.
Forty-four members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF) of the PNP were killed during that encounter on January 15.
It was reported that on July 9, 2016, Baco was with Mohd Najib Husen and four others to recruit fighters in the Dar al-Harb (place of war), referring to Iraq and Syria, the strongholds of the Islamic State.
On January 6, 2017, de la Rosa said 10 foreign terrorists have been hiding in the Philippines, including Baco, since 2014.
Singaporean newspaper Today said Baco had been in the Philippines since 2010, to join the ASG.
The Straits Times reported on October 25, 2017, citing intelligence sources, that Baco had been holed up with about 30 IS militants at the Sabala Manao village in Marawi City. It was also reported that he wanted to surrender to the AFP. RJ CARBONELL, ARIC JOHN SY CUA