Islamic State forms Southeast Asian unit and appoints Philippine terrorist as head
Southeast Asian militants claiming to be fighting for Islamic State recently posted a video on social media announcing they have chosen one of the most wanted men in the Philippines to head a regional faction of the ultra-radical group.
The 20-minute video shows young men and some children in military fatigues training with weapons and holding Islamic State flags. Some of the men appeared to be engaging in jungle gunbattles and a section of the video showed three men apparently being executed but it was not clear where and who they were.
Mohd Rafi Udin, a Malaysian militant currently in Syria, said in Malay on the video “If you cannot go to (Syria), join up and go to the Philippines.” He also urged Muslims to unite under the leadership of Abu Abdullah, a leader of the Philippine militant Abu Sayyaf group, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State in January. This group is one of the most brutal Muslim rebel factions in the south of the largely Christian Philippines and has been carrying out extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings for decades.
Abu Abdullah is on the FBI’s most wanted list for his role in the kidnapping of 17 Filipinos and three Americans in 2001 and carries a bounty of $5 million. He is known to be based in the interior hills of the island of Basilan in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines.
Although the authenticity of this latest video could not be independently verified, the Abu Sayyaf group has posted other videos on social media sites this year pledging allegiance to Islamic State. A military intelligence official in the Philippines said the video is important because it indicates a change in strategy. Islamic State supporters in Southeast Asia are now being asked to unify under one umbrella group and to launch attacks in their own countries instead of going off to fight in the Middle East.
“I think this is a very significant video,” said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based security expert. “This acknowledges support from Indonesia and Malaysia. It suggests there will be more efforts to get people to actually go to Mindanao to launch operations from there.”
Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, chief of Malaysia’s police counter-terrorism unit said “This video is not just propaganda, but is a serious threat. We are definitely expecting more attacks in this region,” Pitchay told Reuters.
Authorities in Southeast Asia have been on heightened alert following the terrorist attack in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last January in which eight people were killed. The militants who carried out the Jakarta attack lacked sophisticated weaponry and were amateurish in the execution. However, some security officials fear a more organized and better trained militant group could launch far deadlier attacks in the region. Philippine military officials dismissed these concerns, saying the video was just propaganda and should be ignored. Philippine military spokesman Restituto Padilla said “Authorities are working on this. They can be identified, and they can be hunted down.”