Treasury sanctions ISIS facilitator based in the Philippines

The Treasury Department announced today that it has added Myrna Mabanza, an Islamic State (ISIS) facilitator based in the Philippines, to the US government’s list of designated terrorists. Treasury identifies Mabanza as a woman in her mid-20s who has worked with some of the Islamic State’s most senior personnel in Southeast Asia. She has not only helped connect the Islamic State’s arms in the Philippines and Indonesia, but has also served as an “intermediary” to jihadists in Syria.

Treasury’s announcement contains several details concerning Mabanza’s role in the Islamic State’s global network.

She worked with Isnilon Hapilon, the former Abu Sayyaf leader who led Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s loyalists in the Philippines before his demise last year.

“In January 2016,” the US government says, “Mabanza was involved in the transfer of up to $107,000 with then-ISIS-P [Islamic State-Philippines] leader Isnilon Hapilon.” Hapilon, who was reportedly killed in Marawi in late 2017, “also instructed Mabanza to deliver money to an ISIS-P member.”

In Feb. 2016, Mabanza “served as an intermediary between Hapilon and ISIS elements in Syria.” Treasury does not explain what Mabanza’s liaison role entailed. But the following month, in Mar. 2016, she “coordinated another transfer of funds with Hapilon” and “a senior ISIS official in Syria planned to send financial support to” the Islamic State in the Philippines “through Mabanza.”

Then, in Apr. 2016, Mabanza “helped facilitate the travel of a Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) representative who traveled from Indonesia to the Philippines.”

Mabanza “accompanied” a “JAD representative to Basilan, Philippines to meet Hapilon,” according to Treasury. The JAD member “traveled to the Philippines to purchase arms for ISIS-aligned forces in Indonesia and to set up training courses for pro-ISIS recruits from Indonesia with” the Islamic State’s arm in the Philippines. Hapilon “agreed to the plan” and Indonesian “recruits…were trained in firearm use and basic bomb-making.”

JAD announced its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. It is a consortium of extremist groups that has provided the Islamic State with a pool of talent from which it can recruit. One of the so-called caliphate’s most prolific remote-controlled plotters, Bahrun Naim, relied on JAD members to carry out his plans. For example, JAD provided the muscle for Naim’s Jan. 14, 2016, attack in Jakarta. [For more, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, Indonesian authorities hunt Islamic State operative’s cyber recruits.]

JAD was designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department in Jan. 2017. The ISIS arm in the Philippines was added to the designation list in Feb. 2018.

Treasury’s announcement highlights the fact that there has been at least some degree of connectivity between the various groups affiliated with the Islamic State throughout Southeast Asia, as well as with the mother organization in Syria. This is not surprising as counterterrorism officials throughout the region — in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore — have been forced to disrupt these ties. In the summer of 2017, Australian authorities, with help from Israeli intelligence, also thwarted a plot that was tied back to Islamic State members in Syria.

“Mabanza has facilitated substantial financial activity on behalf of senior ISIS-Philippines leadership and has been an intermediary between extremist groups in Southeast Asia that are recruiting, training, and deploying radical terrorists,” Sigal Mandelker, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in today’s announcement. “The United States continues to map and disrupt ISIS financing networks in Southeast Asia and is resolved to cut their access to the international financial system.”

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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