MORE atrocities are threatening Mindanao after several attacks in Lanao del Sur and Basilan provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) which hinted ties with local jihadists groups in the country.
The IS recently boasted to have carried out attacks during the last week of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a few days after IS Asian fighters in Syria surfaced in a video ordering its supporters in Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, to wage more attacks and unify under one umbrella group.
Security forces confirmed the separate incidents in Al-Barka town in Basilan and Marawi City in Lanao del Sur but provided no further details. Marawi police said they were tracking down the suspects.
But in its bulletin on July 2, the IS’s Amaq news agency website claimed that “2 Filipino soldiers [were]killed in the municipality of Tugaya, in addition to the destruction of an armored vehicle, killing those inside, near a Filipino army base in the city of Marawi in the Southern Philippines.”
On June 29, the news agency also reported that “15 Filipino soldiers [were]killed, as Islamic State fighters carried out 2 attacks during the last 2 days in the city of Marawi.”
The Amaq reports were being shared online by IS Ranao, known to the military as “Maute group” or “foreign and local terrorist organization (FLTO)” in the remote town of Butig in Lanao del Sur and a jihadist group previously known as Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM).
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman, downplayed the threat, calling it a propaganda of the local jihadists to get the attention of the foreign terror group for support.
“They are part of the propaganda of these groups. They sensationalize and twist the atrocities like claiming that at least 200 of their armed members attacked a military detachment.
“Parang may nangyari tapos papalakihin nila at babaluktutin yung katotohanan para ma suit yung purpose nila para maisulong yung propaganda nila at maipakita na malakas sila (If something happened they will blow it out of proportion, twist the truth to suit their purpose and push their propaganda to show their might),” Padilla said.
Since June the military temporarily stopped its operation against Abdullah Maute’s group in respect to the sacred month of Ramadan while continuous military offensive was on-going in Basilan and Sulu against another local jihadists, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) led by Isnilon Hapilon. The two groups had both pledged allegiance to the IS.
The ASG, know for kidnapping, bombing and beheading activities, is still holding several hostages in Sulu including Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was snatched in Samal Island, Davao del Norte province last September 21, 2015 along with Robert Hall and John Ridsdel and a Filipina, Maritess Flor.
The group released Flor without ransom but decapitated Hall and Ridsdel after deadlines lapsed to pay the P300-million ransom they were demanding for each of their hostages.
The ASG has warned that Sekkingstad might have the same destiny of Hall and Ridsdel if the government fails to pay the ransom or express intent to negotiate.
Earlier reports said that private negotiations are taking place for the safe release of Sekkingstad under the Duterte administration.
WITH FERNAN MARASIGAN