Infographic released by the Islamic State’s ‘Amaq News Agency
‘Amaq News Agency, one of the Islamic State’s news outlets, has released a short infographic detailing the jihadist group’s operations and activities in the Philippines. The infographic is set up similar to those released for official Islamic State wilayats (provinces), which indicates the rising importance of the Philippines for the jihadist group.
The infographic (above) includes several important claims of the Islamic State in the Philippines, including how many groups have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and where these groups operate. Additionally, it claims 289 Filipino troops have been killed by Islamic State forces since April 2015, including 100 alone in April 2016. The Filipino government has heavily disputed these numbers.
While the infographic contains numbers from April 2015, it confirms the first official announcement of Filipino jihadist groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State occurred in January 2016. Videos and reports of groups pledging bayah (allegiance) have emerged since 2014, shortly after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, claimed the creation of a caliphate. The video in January, however, was the first time the Islamic State publicly accepted these pledges.
A month later, the Islamic State’s Furat media released another video showing more groups pledging allegiance. This includes Isnilon Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, who heads the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). In an April issue of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter Al Naba, the jihadist group said that Hapilon (called Abu Abdullah al Filipini, one of his noms de guerre, in the newsletter) has been appointed as emir of all Islamic State forces in the Philippines according to a translation from the SITE Intelligence Group.
His appointment seems likely as Hapilon is the senior most figure to have defected to the Islamic State in the Philippines. This also means that a formal leadership structure for the Islamic State is in place, exemplifying its expansion in the country. The latest infographic also shows more examples of expansion and gives credence to a formal leadership structure, as ‘Amaq claims that the Islamic State has 10 “fighting battalions” in the Philippines.
This number includes at least a portion or all of ASG, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines, Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, the Islamic State in Lanao, Jund al Tawhid (a former ASG battalion), Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (a group formerly loyal to al Qaeda), and parts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The claimed areas of operation largely corresponds with the reported areas of the aforementioned groups. This includes the southern areas of Basilan, South Cotabato, Sulu, Sarangani, Lanao del Sur, and the northern province of Isabela. Several of the groups recently claimed attacks in most of these provinces, including Sulu, Sarangani, and Lanao del Sur. BIFF also claimed recent attacks in Maguindanao, as well.
Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.