'Islamic State popularity growing in Philippines'
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2014 - 12:40pm

MANILA, Philippines - The appeal of the jihadist organization Islamic State (IS) is gaining ground in the Philippines, particularly among extremist groups in Mindanao, the Anti-Terrorism Council said Thursday.

At a security forum co-organized by the European Union, Assistant Secretary Oscar Valenzuela, executive director of the council's project management committee, said the Philippines was not spared from the "regional spillover" of the international security crisis sparked by IS in the Middle East and spread through social media and the Internet.

The country saw pledges of allegiance to the IS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by known jihadists in previous months such by members of the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon along with some of his men appeared in a video uploaded on YouTube reading a pledge to al-Baghdadi, while BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama confirmed a video showing their members vowing loyalty to the IS.

Valenzuela also noted a show of support by Aleem Jamil Yahyam, chairman of the Bangsamoro Supreme Council of Usama, to the IS "through prayers."

He said the presence of foreign Islamic preachers may also have security implications in the Philippines, with Australian national Robert Edward "Musa" Cerantonio, an alleged IS preacher, arrested in Cebu in July and Canadian citizen Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips in Davao in September. Philips had denied links with terror groups.

"Foreign radical preachers have gravitated toward the country," Valenzuela said.

He also warned about the possibility of recruitment for jihad from the large population of Filipino workers in the Middle East who may be drawn to the "abundance" of funds from the Islamists.

Valenzuela, however, dismissed reports on the supposed deaths of two Filipinos fighting with IS and the alleged 100 Filipino fighters training in Iran for the group.

"These are reports and they are still being validated ... there are 100, there are 400, the figures vary," Valenzuela said.

Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said that members of at least four groups in the Philippines have been identified as "followers"--as distinguished from members--of the IS.

Besides the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF, the Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement and the Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM) have in previous years waved the black flag now known as the symbol of IS.

"We have seen the Black Flag [with the groups] as early as 2010, and we had no idea that it belongs to ISIS," Banlaoi said.

Speaking for Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Pio Catapang, Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said, that the KIM, whose existence was first reported in 2012, can be a "factor of concern" for the country's security if it can force a direct tie with the IS.

"[The KIM can] emerge as an umbrella organization for other existing and emerging jihadist groups that embrace the idea of creating an Islamic state in southern Philippines, as what the Jemaah Islamiyah envisioned," Kakilala said.

ABU AMEENAH BILAL PHILIPS ABU MISRY MAMA ABU SAYYAF ALEEM JAMIL YAHYAM ANTI-TERRORISM COUNCIL ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES ASSISTANT SECRETARY OSCAR VALENZUELA BAGHDADI MIDDLE EAST VALENZUELA
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