Isnilon Hapilon (background, arm raised), emir of Islamic State in the Philippines.
Correction: The title of this piece originally was: “Islamic State officially creates province in the Philippines.” But that is not accurate. Although the Islamic State may be preparing to declare a formal wilayat, or province, in the Philippines, it has not yet done so. This piece has been corrected in several spots to note that the video mentioned does not, in fact, say that the Islamic State has officially created a “province” in the Philippines. The Long War Journal regrets the error. The rest of the article details how the Islamic State has won the loyalty of various groups, including those formally belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group.
A new video released by the Islamic State shows several “battalions” of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. This includes the Abu Dujana Battalion, Abu Khubaib Battalion, Jundallah Battalion, and the Abu Sadr Battalion. These battalions joined others from ASG, including Jund al Tawhid, Ansar al Sharia, and Marakah al Ansar in pledging bayah to the Islamic State. Additionally, some of ASG’s leadership, including overall leader Isnilon Hapilon (who is shown in the video), have pledged to the jihadist group.
Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, was again confirmed as the leader of all of the Islamic State’s forces in the Philippines. In an April issue of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter Al Naba, the jihadist group said that Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah al Filipini, had been appointed as emir. The issue of Al Naba was translated by The SITE Intelligence Group. In a portion of the video featuring a Filipino fighter in Raqqah, Syria, he confirms the Al Naba report.
Hapilon is the most senior figure to have defected to the Islamic State in the Philippines. The video also confirms that a formal leadership structure for the Islamic State has indeed been put into place, exemplifying its expansion in the country. This was also seen earlier this month in an infographic released by the Amaq News Agency, one of the jihadist group’s news outlets. The infographic included several important facts from the Islamic State in the Philippines, including the number of groups that have pledged allegiance and where they operate. [See Threat Matrix report, Islamic State details activity in the Philippines.]
While the infographic contains numbers from April 2015, it also notes 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 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 outlet released another video showing more groups pledging allegiance.
These groups include the aforementioned battalions of ASG, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines, the Islamic State in Lanao, Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (a group formerly loyal to al Qaeda), and parts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Their claimed areas of operation largely correspond 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 these groups, including Ansar Khilafah, the Islamic State in Lanao, and the Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (JTJ) have publicized training camps in the region. Ansar Khilafah was the first to do so last December, while the latter two groups did so last month and in March, respectively. A video from JTJ’s training camp, the “Osama bin Laden training camp,” also publicized its loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
The Islamic State has claimed several attacks in the Philippines in recent months. One of these attacks was featured in the video, which showed Islamic State fighters engaging in a firefight with Filipino security forces. Several vehicles and weapons are shown to have been captured by the jihadists. Additionally, the video pays tribute to several fighters who have been killed in clashes with the Filipino military. This includes Abu Khattab, a Moroccan bomb expert within ASG, who was killed in April.
A good portion of the recently released video was filmed in Syria. Indonesian, Malaysian, and Filipino fighters in Syria’s Raqqah province are shown discussing these pledges and encouraging others to follow suit in Southeast Asia. The three are later shown simultaneously beheading three Assad regime soldiers somewhere in Raqqah.
The Islamic State has also inroads in the wider Southeast Asia region, an area that has historically featured al Qaeda activity. Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI), al Qaeda’s historical branch in Southeast Asia, has also 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. It is directly part of al Qaeda’s global network now, according to its leader. [See LWJ report, Islamic State launches suicide assault in Indonesia’s capital.]
Yet another group in region, Mujahideen Indonesion Timor (MIT), is also loyal to the Islamic State. Abu Warda Santoso, the MIT leader, swore allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014. His group was previously listed by the US as a terrorist group last year. Last month, the US Department of State added Santoso to its list of global terrorists. [See LWJ report, US adds emir of Mujahidin Indonesia Timur to list of global terrorists.]
Screenshots from the video:
Pledges to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi:
Clashes with Filipino security forces:
Killed Moroccan fighter of ASG: