Still from an Islamic State video featuring Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon (center) pledging allegiance to Baghdadi
The Islamic State has officially recognized pledges of allegiance from several jihadist groups based in the Philippines. The Islamic State has not yet made an official “wilayat,” or province, for the Philippines or the wider Southeast Asian region. At least one portion of the groups included are led by Isnilon Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, who heads the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
The pledges, or bayat, were accepted in a video that was recently released by the Islamic State’s Al Furat Media – a largely Russian-language media outlet. The video shows that the Islamic State is officially recognizing that several groups have pledged allegiance to it and its leader. Additionally, other groups in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor, have also pledged. It is possible that the jihadist group will announce such a province in the future, especially after conducting a suicide assault in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The recognition of the pledges could pave the way for such an announcement.
The video features Hapilon and two other group leaders recording their pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. The other leaders include a figure named Abu Anas al Muhajir, who was identified as the emir (leader) of Katibat Ansar al Sharia, and Abu Harith al Filipini, a delegate sent by the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar. Additionally, brief combat footage was included in the video in which Abu Anas al Muhajir was shown to have been killed fighting.
The Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, and at least a portion of ASG are not the only groups in the Philippines which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Another group, identified as Ansar al Khilafah in the Philippines has also pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. Last August, the group first emerged by explicitly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in a video released on YouTube. In April, the group released another video to threaten the Filipino government and American soldiers in the Philippines. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, a spokesman for Ansar al Khilafah threatened to “deploy suicide bombers” in the country and that the group would make the Philippines a “graveyard for American soldiers.”
In December 2015, fighters alleging to be part of the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines” released a short video showing a training camp somewhere in the Philippines. It is unclear which group was shown in the video, but it was likely a combined group of fighters from the aforementioned groups above. [See LWJ report, Islamic State supporters show training camp in the Philippines.]
According to the Southeast Asian news site Benar News, Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines is led by one Abu Sharifah and is based in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces. Additionally, the news site reports that the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar is led by one Abu Ammar, who was not present in the video. It also reported that Abu Anas al Muhajir and several fighters shown in the video were from Malaysia, historical operating grounds for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is considered al Qaeda’s branch in the region.
Jeemah Islamiyah also operates in the Philippines, but has suffered defections to the Islamic State. Shortly after Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014, Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader and co-founder of JI as well as the emir of its offshoot Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. However, Bashir’s two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to the Jakarta Post, more than 50 percent of Bashir’s followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to its leader, it is directly part of al Qaeda’s global network now. [See LWJ report, Islamic State launches suicide assault in Indonesia’s capital.]
Traditionally, ASG has had ties to al Qaeda. In June 2014, a master ASG bomb maker, who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, turned up in the Philippines before being killed last year. The operative, Abdul Basit Usman, was wanted by the US for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also had ties to JI. ASG was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, before he was killed in 2006. Khalifa, an al Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.
It is unclear how many fighters from ASG followed Hapilon in pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. In hostage videos released last year by ASG, the group made no indication it was holding the hostages on behalf of the Islamic State nor were the videos distributed by official Islamic State channels or media outlets.