ZAMBOANGA CITY: Various armed Muslim groups in southern Philippines sympathetic to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) militants continue their recruitment in the restive region–radicalizing teachings of the holy Koran to entice new members to fight for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Mindanao.
The 6th Infantry Division in the restive province of Maguindanao recently confirmed the recruitment of civilians into the “Anṣār al-Khilāfah” or “Supporters of the Caliphate” headed by Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who pledged allegiance to ISIS in August 2014.
Troops recently clashed with Maguid’s group in Sultan Kudarat’s Palimbang town and killed 8 jihadists–one of them an Indonesian fighter Ali Ibrahim. The rest of the casualties were all Filipinos and one is believed to be a clan member of a powerful political clan in the Muslim autonomous region.
His family was shocked when news broke out that he was among those killed in the clash, saying the slain man was just a student studying Koran in General Santos City.
Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, said they only learned about the Anṣār al-Khilāfah recruitment after retrieving various documents and identifications cards of new members in the jihadists’ camp after the deadly clash.
She added that the military is now working to stop the recruitment of civilians by the radical groups.
Petinglay said the slain Indonesian militant was also a senior member of the Mujahideen Indonesian Timur and had been previously arrested in Zamboanga City in 2005 for illegal gun possession and freed by the court in 2013.
And he had since joined the Anṣār al-Khilāfah, which has threatened to kill American troops assisting the Philippines in defeating terrorism in the troubled Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Maguid, who was a key member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014, escaped the fighting in Sultan Kudarat along with over 3 dozen followers.
Maguid was believed wounded in the clash.
Petinglay said troops and policemen tracked down the jihadists’ hideout after villagers tipped off authorities about the radical group.
“The successful operation is a manifestation of the established good relationship of the military and police with the community, as information pertaining to the presence of the target and his supporters was volunteered by concerned citizens from the local community,” she added.
Troops, Petinglaysaid, also recovered six ISIS flags, including a .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle, an M16 automatic rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, assorted improvised explosives, radio communication sets, identification cards and various documents with intelligence value from the encounter site.
Aside from local Anṣār al-Khilāfah, the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mindanao also pledged allegiance to ISIS and vowed to put up a strict Islamic state in Mindanao.
Just mid-November, ISIS-inspired rebels warned of more attacks on civilian targets, particularly Christian areas in the Philippines, as security forces continue their offensives on insurgent and radical groups in the ARMM.
Masked gunmen released a video on Facebook threatening attacks on innocent civilians and to pursue an Islamic caliphate in Mindanao.
The video came out after bombing and suicide attacks by ISIS on various civilian targets in Paris, France, and in Beirut early in the month.
The gunmen, with the ISIS flags behind them, spoke lengthily in fluent Tagalog, mimicking ISIS style in threatening to wipe out the “infidels.”
But the military said local insurgents were riding on the notoriety of ISIS also known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL.
Late last year, some 100 local Muslims in Marawi City have pledged allegiance or bai’ah to the ISIS following trends from radical jihadist groups in the Philippines.
Those who pledged their allegiance took their mass oath-taking in a surprise announcement inside the Masjid Islamic Center there.
An elderly Muslim cleric who was a former senior member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and members of the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao-Black Flag Movement allegedly organized the mass oath-taking.
Dozens of Muslim detainees in Taguig City just outside Manila also pledged their allegiance to ISIS and were believed organized by Ahmad Santos, jailed leader of the radical Muslim-converts group Rajah Solaiman Movement or RSM.
The Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, which is being linked by police and military to the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF, and the Al-Khobar group and RSM, was the first local jihadist group to vow support to the ISIS.