Why the Islamic State-linked Moro groups must be swiftly crushed

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RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

TO see why the Mindanao terrorists linked to the Islamic State could turn into the biggest threat to the Republic ever, we’d have to look at how it had become such a formidable force that it captured Iraq’s second biggest city in 2014 and declared a territory in Iraq and Syria as big as the United Kingdom as part of its Caliphate.

The Islamic State is upon us, its opening salvo the bloody attack on Marawi City by jihadists linked to it. The media calls them the “Maute Group” since the group has been led by Omarkhayam Romato and his brother Abduallah.

The group, however, calls itself Islamic State-Ranao, after the old name of the areas surrounding Lake Lanao in central Mindanao. It is not just coincidence but symbolic that the Islamic State-Ranao’s biggest battle so far has been Marawi, the only Islamic city in the country.

Before discussing in more detail what this IS-Ranao and other groups linked to the Islamic State is, we’d have to study first what this “ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah” is, to realize that it does pose a huge threat to the nation, probably the most serious menace to the country.


The Islamic State grew so powerful in the wake of catastrophic blunders by the US.

First was its invasion of Iraq in 2003, on the pretext that it had “weapons of mass destruction” threatening the US and the world – which turned out to be total fiction. The real reason was that it satisfied Americans’ bloodlust, to avenge the al-Qaida’s attack on the World Trade Center that demolished it and killed 3,000 innocent Americans. The US smashed the secular Iraqi state, leaving a vacuum for jihadists to attempt setting up religious versions of a state.

A second, bigger blunder: Just a few months after the US invasion of Iraq. the superpower ordered the dissolution of Saddam’s army and security apparatus, purportedly to nip in the bud all armed resistance to its occupation. The opposite happened, and worse.

Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announces global Caliphate in July 2014 at the Grand Mosque in Mosul, Iraq.

With 250,000 officers and soldiers finding themselves without work overnight, they became easy recruits for the then still tiny group called “al-Qaida in Iraq,” led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian street thug who had been radicalized into militant jihadism during his imprisonment in the 1990s. Battalions defected to al-Zarqawi en masse. bringing with them tanks, artillery and thousands of rifles. About half of IS’ top commanders are said to have been former officers in Saddam’s army.

An analogy
An analogy would be if the Cory regime right after the fall of Marcos ordered the disbandment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on the ground that this was the pillar of the dictatorship. Almost certainly, its officers would have fled to the Ilocos provinces to form a formidable “Marcos” army, while its noncommissioned officers and soldiers would have been recruited by the New People’s Army.

The ranks of “al-Qaida in Iraq” ranks swelled, and more importantly Saddam’s officers turned Zarqawi’s fledgling ragtag army into a disciplined military force. Again, imagine if instead of just one officer, Lt. Victor Corpus, a thousand AFP officers had joined the NPA.

Zarqawi made a horrific innovation in its jihad: It beheaded captives, including two Americans which he himself did, had videos made of these ruthless acts, and posted them in the Internet. While it horrified the West, it made al-Qaida in Iraq appear as such a determined force that young Muslims from other countries, including those from Europe, joined it.

While horrific to modern eyes, these atrocities were in compliance with “pure,” or ancient, Islam – that is, these were normal practices during the time of the Prophet in the 7th century. The message: Only the “al-Qaida in Iraq” was the true follower of Islam.

Because it was a catastrophic blunder, US leaders had gone into denial mode— especially after al-Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike in 2009—and believed that al-Qaida in Iraq was all but decimated.

The reality though was that it went deep underground, with the more intellectually superior Abubakr al Baghdadi, a Muslim cleric with a doctorate in Islamic studies, assuming leadership of the jihadist organization.

State for the World
It was Baghdadi who broke away from al-Qaida’s framework of jihadism to announce in 2013 that his organization would be called the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, the latter being an old term for several eastern Mediterranean countries, including Syria.

In 2014, he expanded this “state’ to include the world, and more simply called his organization the “Islamic State,” the rough English translation of ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiya, “Dawlah” roughly translated as “state”, but having really a deeper meaning, something like “Kingdom of God”, or Caliphate. He was appointed Caliph Ibrahim. In a very symbolic way he made the announcement in the Grand Mosque of Mosul, one of the biggest religious structures of Islam.

While the medieval notion of a “caliphate” is met with derision in moderate Muslim countries, it turned out to be a brilliant move that attracted young Muslims from all over the world, disaffected by modern life, from such countries as Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The British were so alarmed that they passed a law that made it illegal – punishable by imprisonment – for its citizens to travel to Syria.

The “Caliphate” harks back to the golden age of Islam when it was the state religion of powerful empires, starting with its founder Mohammad’s Arabian empire. The growth of Islam starting in the 7th century had been due to a series of Caliphates, just as Christianity grew as big as it is today because it was the state religion of the Roman and Byzantine empires, and their several successor European empires, including the Spanish

The Islamic State’s ideology is that the decline of Islam had been due to the end of the Muslim caliphates, the last one being the Ottoman Empire that was dissolved in 1924. The establishment of an Islamic Caliphate therefore signals the resurgence of Islam, its faithful believe.

More than just a state as we know it though, the Islamic State’s vision is apocalyptic, in many ways like the old Jewish and early Christian notions of “End of Days,” when a Messiah (in Islam, the Mahdi) will defeat the faithful’s enemies in a decisive battle, and usher in the “Kingdom of God”.

Final battle
In fact, if the Book of Revelations claimed that Megiddo in modern-day Israel (from which the term “Armageddon” was derived) will be the site of the final battle between the forces of the Messiah and those of the “Anti-Christ”, for the adherents of IS, it is Dabiq—after which its propaganda magazine was named—near Aleppo in Syria. (This may explain why the IS captured Dabiq, with the bigger city Aleppo, even if it is strategically unimportant, and has held on to it at great cost.)

The IS’ rapid expansion into Syria in 2013 contributed to its strength. The US has been claiming that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had become a ruthless dictator who had waged a ruthless war against opposition groups. It has therefore been covertly and openly supporting such forces, mainly the Free Syrian Army in its self-proclaimed role as the world’s policeman.

However, al-Assad, and the Russians backing him, have claimed that much of the US support— in war materiel and money—for the Free Syrian Army have gone to the Islamic State, therefore strengthening its army. This could be the US’ third big blunder that helped the Islamic State grow.

Whatever explanation is correct, the Islamic State’s army after its Syrian conquests became so powerful and well-equipped that it launched a blitzkrieg that in 2014 captured Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. The analogy would be if the NPA suddenly captured Cebu – with all its wealth in banks and homes.

The Washington Post reported in a June 14 article that the Islamic State fighters raided the region’s central bank and many other private banks, and hauled off the equivalent of $500 million in dinars as well as large quantities of gold bullion, making it the “World’s Richest Terror Force.”

Not only that, however. The bigger wealth of the Islamic State have come from the eight oil fields in Syria and Iraq that it had captured, with estimates of its revenues from oil—which it has managed to smuggle out—reaching as much as $500 million a month in 2015. Since then though, the Islamic State’s oil revenues have reportedly plunged after US forces focused on destroying the oil fields under its control.

IS-Ranao
Back to Mindanao.

The obvious huge threat posed by the Islamic State to the Philippines is that as the “World’s Richest Terror Force,” it can channel huge financial resources to IS-Ranao and to other fledgling jihadist groups. Say, $10 million, which is P500 million, would be just a drop in the bucket of the Islamic State’s assets estimated to be at least $3 billion. The Filipino jihadists may in fact have already been receiving such financial help – that it has taken nearly a week for the military to retake Marawi.

There have been reports that kidnap-for-ransom operations by the jihadists, their primary source of funding, have drastically gone down as they no longer need such source of funds.

Secondly, with the Islamic State increasingly under pressure by US forces in the Middle East, its cadres could decide to focus on Southeast Asia, particularly in the shared border areas of the Muslim-led countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the Philippines’ Muslim Mindanao. The porousness of the borders of these countries, and the relative weaknesses of their states make these areas vulnerable to Islamic jihadists.

And thirdly is the power of a compelling vision: the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate that would usher in the arrival of the Mahdi.

Such is the huge threat the Islamic State poses to us, which the Marawi siege has suddenly made covert. Compared to the Islamic State, the mostly secular MNLF and MILF are local gangs.

On Friday: How far the Islamic State is upon us in Mindanao.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

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10 Comments

  1. Violence countered with violence generates greater violence. Education of the masses of Muslim people in Mindanao is the slow but sure force to face off violence and the surge of IS-backed movements in Southern Philippines. Muslims feel forgotten and relinquished to the backburner of the country. It’s high time our government pushes through with its development thrusts and programs for our Muslim brothers, starting effectively and expeditiously with education.

    • Through ARMM, the government funnels billions of taxpayer money for “development thrusts and programs” in Mindanao. It’s only people like you who conveniently forget about the existence of Muslims in this country until you chance upon reports about skirmishes in the south. As to the matter of violence: it is endemic and typical of Moro culture. The history of Moroland is rife with violence – that’s not about to change in this lifetime.

  2. DU30 has a foresight that IS will be a big problem in Mindanao in his previous speeches and he’s preparing for this all along. What a magnificent President we have. Let’s pray our President that he will finish his mandate to make our country peaceful and prosperous and be a proud Filipinos.

  3. you can fool some of the people some of the time, you can fool filipinos all the time, but never your intellectual superior.
    nice try.

  4. Amnata Pundit on

    If its true as many sectors insist that the ISIS ( and the Al Qaeda and all the terrorists fighting Assad in Syria) is a CIA/Mossad/MI6 creation, that means the American-led West are moving in on the Duterte administration through Mindanao. I won’t be surprised if they will also gas up the other western-backed rebels in this country like the NPA. If you will notice, the yellow turds are not condemning the attacks but are instead merely repeating their endless mantra of human rights abuses like mindless parrots. Duterte should ask Russia and China to send advisers ( not combat forces) to help in fighting these western backed forces not only because of Russia’s success in helping Syria but to highlight the fact that the West never helped us in our war against these rebels. As a matter of fact, when Marcos was fighting the MNLF in the 70s, he did so singlehandedly because the Americans refused to help at all. Let’s pray for Duterte, he is the country’s last chance.

  5. Leodegardo M. Pruna on

    An enlightening reference on what is happening in Marawi and the world. We pray that while evil seems to triumph that good will finally overcome and diminish the evil. God in His power and might will prevail. God bless the Philippines.

  6. It was the Russians who bombed the Oil depots,Oil tankers and refineries which the ISIS is using for their revenues. US tolerated and in fact did not even sanction the banks which the ISIS is using. It was the Russians all the way that has been cleansing out the ISIS out of Syria. In fact, there was a back channeling regarding the Russian offensive in Aleppo that’s why it took sometime for the Russians to liberate it. Apparently, US and its coalition forces are fighting with the Al Quieda and ISIS when they were trapped by the advancing forces of Russia and its coalition. The western forces has to be removed first before the final assault of Russia and its coalition forces happened. Clearly this ISIS is formed and financed by US through it’s Middle East lapdogs Saudi Ariabia, UAE, Qatar and being used as its ground force in the Middle East. It’s like the Mujaheddin which they formed to counter the Soviet regime in Afghanistan. US Senator McCain even has a picture with ISIS leader Baghdadi during his trip to Syria.

  7. Sometimes, I am so saddened by the politics as usual in this country. Events in Marawi should be a wake-up call that terrorism is now a threat to the nation. The danger is not the ghost of Marcos. The danger may be in the nation’s unwillingness or inability to grasp the real threat that has been festering and growing for years. But, martial law and military action is only the first step on the road to peace. In the end, the social and economic development of Mindanao is the real battle that must be won.

  8. We need a strong leader in order to restore peace and order in our country. Terrorist’s force should be countered with government’s strongest force.

  9. They have to work hard that none of the terrorists will escape with the least collateral damage the soonest as possible. The evil these torrorists bring is unimaginable. Yellows and CBCP, it’s the right time to open your eyes. CBCP, if you want to be relevant, go to Mindanao and help the government.