MNLF official: ISIS recruitment in Mindanao possible

Roel Pareño, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - A senior official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said the reported recruitment conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) in Mindanao is possible and not distant with the continuous existence of local militant groups, including the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fightera (BIFF).

Habib Mujahab Hashim, chief of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, said they heard about the reported presence of Sunni preachers allegedly conducting recruitment for ISIS members. 

“But I can not confirm nor deny it,” Hashim said. “But it is very possible.” 

Hashim said the situation in Mindanao region might allow local militants to be lured by joining the dreaded Islamic extremist group that wants to propagate the Islamic caliphate.

“The Philippine government should solve the persistent problem of Abu Sayyaf and other militant problems,” Hashim said.

The military remained mum about reports or recruitment of Abu Sayyaf and BIFF members joining the ISIS.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of Western Mindanao Command, said they have no specific reports about ISIS-related activities in the region.

“Let us not give them the media attention they need. That is what terrorists need to create fear,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero said their focus is to continue eradicating the Abu Sayyaf group, Jemaah Islamiyah and its cohorts operating in the area. 

Reports and video clips posted in the social media showed an Abu Sayyaf leader and some of his followers have pledged their support to the ISIS.

There were information suggested that some of the Abu Sayyaf members slipped out of their way into Syria fighting alongside with the ISIS. 

 'Analyzing the situation'

The military is not discounting the possibility that terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is recruiting young men in parts of Mindanao.

Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said they are continuously validating the information, which was relayed earlier by former President Fidel Ramos and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

“The thing that we like to state is we are analyzing this situation. We are not dismissing the information,” Tutaan told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo Tuesday.

“The information regarding the alleged sending of Filipino youths to the ISIS is continuously being verified,” he added.

Tutaan said the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command is now coordinating with Duterte regarding the matter. He could not say if similar coordination is being done with Ramos.

“We are putting the information all together. We do not want to cause undue alarm,” Tutaan said.

ISIS is an extremist group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in the Middle East. The jihadist group is responsible for the killing of several non-Muslims including American journalist James Foley.

Early this month, Ramos told ABS-CBN News Channel that at least 100 young Filipino Muslims have infiltrated Iraq to undergo trainings with the ISIS. Duterte later on confirmed that some of the ISIS recruits were from Davao.

A video clip showing Filipino lawless groups Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) pledging alliance to ISIS recently surfaced online.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), however, believes an alliance among the three groups is “very unlikely.”

“The report that some 100 elements of the Abu Sayyaf Group and so-called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement have traveled to the Middle East and joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is very unlikely,” the group said in an editorial posted on its website luwaran.com

“The MILF has no verified report about it. In our view, there is more loss than gain for the two groups in joining the ISIS,” it added.

MILF said the threat is not in the two groups joining the ISIS because their number is “too tiny to be felt and make a difference.”

“The ISIS is overflowing with volunteers from all over the world, including those from the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia,” it said.

“The threat really comes from the extremism espoused by the ISIS. Ideas are contagious and infectious. Wild ideas are attractive to those who want adventures and pre-occupied with hatred and revenge.” –  with a report from I. Bongcales

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