A NEW jihadist group has deployed a 15-man team to Luzon ahead of the visit of Pope Francis in January next year.
Luzon is the Philippines’ largest group of islands.
An intelligence officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who spoke on condition of anonymity on Monday said the team, led by Jemaah Islamiyah-trained Abdul Basit Usman, is a composite group from the Al Hansar Khilafa, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and similar extremist organizations.
The source, who is familiar with the movements of local militants, added that the deployment of the Usman team may have something to do with the papal visit.
“This only confirms that the operation of the Al Hansar Khilafa is now all over the country,” the officer said in a phone interview
According to him, Al Hansar Khilafa was formed last July and its more than 60 fighters come from different militant groups in the country.
“Their members come from the Rajah Solaiman Movement-Abu Sayyaf Group of Isnilon Hapilon and Usman’s former men in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF],” the source said.
Recruits from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and three members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) complete the group.
The source said Usman’s men, who could now be in Metro Manila and in the Southern Tagalog region are all trained in making explosives.
Another police intelligence source earlier said a group of foreign jihadists has set up a cell in Luzon and may also be plotting to kill the pontiff, who will be in the Philippines from January 15 to 19.
The other source admitted that he has scant information about the Khilafa Islamiya in the Visayas but that the Luzon cell is headed by an Islamic cleric from Bangladesh with four other foreigners joining the group.
The group had just come from Cotabato where they trained some militants in bomb-making.
The other source said the formation of Usman’s group, called the “Bangsamoro Justice Movement [BJM], may have been disrupted by the arrest of Khair Mundos last June and Ricardo Ayeras of RSM.
Mundos, a key Abu Sayyaf leader, was said to be checking out possible routes to be taken by Pope Francis during his Philippine trip.
Ayeras was arrested in Quezon City early last month for a traffic violation.
The PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, in an earlier interview said they have not picked up possible threats to Pope Francis.