Zulkifli bin Abdul Hir alias Marwan, a notorious but elusive member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and a noted bomb expert, is reportedly among the four militants who are actively recruiting Filipino Muslims for the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Mindanao, according to an intelligence officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The source, who asked that his name be withheld, said Marwan, who has a US$5 million bounty on his head, is joined in the recruitment by certain Quaim, Mawiya and Abu Saad, who are also JI members but have already pledged allegiance or ‘baai’ to ISIS.
He added that Marwan is the same JI member who was reportedly killed along with some militants during military air strikes on the lair of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, Sulu, in 2012.
But ASG leader Khair Mundos, who was arrested in Paranaque City in June this year, revealed during a tactical interrogation that Marwan survived the attack and has remained in hiding in an undisclosed place in Mindanao.
Marwan and his group are reportedly targeting young Muslim recruits to undergo actual training in Iraq and Syria before bringing them back to the country where they are expected to propagate the ISIS doctrines.
Reports about the activities of Marwan’s group further bolstered earlier accounts that ISIS and its sympathizers have already entered and infiltrated various areas in southern Philippines.
“[They are now all in Mindanao and there is even a new guy], Abdurahman from Saudi Arabia,” the source said.
He added that the extremists give lectures to their recruits, while others lure new members through the Internet. This was confirmed by a 14-year-old boy who claimed that he was recruited by Abdul Basit Usman, another JI leader who operates in Basilan and nearby areas.
Usman is reportedly working with Abdulrahman Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, one of the leaders of a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 103rd MILF Brigade based in Lanao del Norte.
The boy said he and other young recruits already pledged their allegiance to ISIS and that they are taught to promote “holy war” by a fundamentalist group of imams or high priests.
He added that majority of the recruits are students and about 10 of them had undergone secret military training in an undisclosed camp in Lanao del Norte.
Bravo was tagged in a series of attacks on various military detachments in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte in 2003.
The boy also revealed that ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon and some of the commanders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) met sometime in July this year with Commander Bravo and four foreign-trained ISIS members somewhere in Basilan.
He said they were told to recruit more young Filipino Muslims who will be trained as freedom fighters and they will be compensated P100,000 for every mission they accomplished.
The boy’s revelations confirmed reports that JI members are now working with ISIS even as another Malaysian JI member, Amin Baco alias Abu Jihad, is reportedly also recruiting young Filipinos to pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Earlier, a retired police intelligence officer, Rodolfo “Boggie” Mendoza, confirmed that the recruitment of Filipino Muslims for ISIS is ongoing in several provinces in Mindanao and also online.
Mendoza, the president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), said information gathered from their field sources showed that the recruitment is centered on areas in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Sulu and the Zamboanga peninsula.
Reports on the ISIS recruitment prompted Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila) to seek the creation of a team composed of police and military investigators that will stop extremists from recruiting Muslim youth.
Biazon,a former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on Tuesday said the government should not ignore the threat posed by ISIS.
“We have seen the brutality of the ISIS. We need to determine how they get support and effect recruitment so we would know how to respond, especially now that the peace process between the government and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) is ongoing. Otherwise, the Bangsamoro would have a problem,” the lawmaker, who heads the House Committee on National Defense and Security, noted.
“We cannot ignore these reports because it has been said already that the ISIS is recruiting followers in Asia,” he told reporters during the Ugnayan sa Batasan news forum.
But Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao denied that ISIS supporters are recruiting members in Mindanao.
“There’s BIFF recruitment, but not ISIS,” Hataman said in a text message.
with LLANESCA T. PANTI