ISIS a serious security concern for PH, Southeast Asia – analyst
The extremist and intolerant ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses “a serious security concern” to Mindanao and the whole of Southeast Asia.
A Filipino international security analyst, professor Rommel C. Banlaoi aired this warning after two Moro armed groups pledged allegiance to the ISIS now called Islamic State (IS).
A threat by Muslim brigands to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with the IS is the latest sign that the Middle East group’s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.
A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry issued a statement in Berlin that “threats are no appropriate way of influencing German foreign policy,” and that the ministry’s crisis group was working on the case.
The German man and woman, who were reportedly seized from a yacht in the South China Sea in April, are thought to be held on southern Jolo island by Abu Sayyaf fighters loyal to one-armed Radullan Sahiron. His group is also believed to be holding a Dutch and a Swiss hostage seized in May 2012 and a Japanese man.
Over 100 people from Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed by security officials and analysts to have joined Islamic State’s fight in Iraq and Syria. Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria, according to a report from a well-known security group released this week.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the US Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, said on Thursday around 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq.
“That number could get larger as we go forward,” Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon.
Security officials say this has disturbing implications for the region, especially when battle-hardened fighters return home from the Middle East.
Banlaoi said in Southeast Asia the “ISIS ideology is spreading widely among Muslim extremists,” citing Indonesia in particular as Jemaah Islamiyyah’s Abu Bakar Bashir already pledged allegiance to the group.
Many Muslim organizations in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Banda Aceh and other parts of Indonesia have also expressed allegiance to ISIS,” he said.
“But I have to emphasized that those groups and individuals pledging allegiance to ISIS represent only a minuscule element of the entire Muslim population in the region,” he said.
Earlier, the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which has degenerated into a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) band, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFM-BIFF) had sworn allegiance to the IS.
But security officials doubt the militants have links with IS beyond pledging allegiance to the Middle Eastern group, and see it as a move by Abu Sayyaf to revive its fortunes and gain publicity. A senior leader of the group and several other members made an oath of loyalty to Islamic State in a video uploaded on YouTube in July.
“We believe that there is no direct link, that they are possibly sympathisers joining in the bandwagon to gain popular support,” said AFP spokesperson Ramon Zagala. “We see this as a way to be known, because right now the Abu Sayyaf is in a decline. To directly say that ISIS (Islamic State) is here – there are no indications of that.”
To belie claims of the armed forces that there no ISIS members in the PH, a group of 100 supporters gathered openly in Marawi city last week, waving what is believed to be an ISIS flag and pledged support to the group. This is the second time that the group showed its numbers.
Former President Fidel V. Ramos revealed earlier that about 100 Muslim Filipinos were training with ISIS. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte also received the same information.
“It is really a serious security concern, not only in Mindanao, but the entire region of Southeast Asia, considering that there are also Muslim leaders and organizations pledging allegiance to ISIS,” said the Filipino academic and political science scholar.
Banlaoi is a director at the Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies, senior lecturer at Miriam College and chairs the Board of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).
He said interpreting the ISIS intention is difficult, though if one looks at its key leadership, they are “promulgating a different interpretation of Islam.”
“But the good thing is that the majority of the Muslim world, particularly the majority population of the Muslim world, condemns the activities of the IS. And in many Muslim communities in Europe they declared participation in ISIS as ‘haram’ or forbidden,” Banlaoi added.
He noted that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) peace accord with the government on March 27 this year already condemned the IS. Even the BIFF, which vowed allegiance to the group, “do not tolerate” the brutal activities of IS.
Banlaoi said though majority of Muslims in the PH are moderate, there are still few who are attracted to the IS because of material considerations.
He urged Islamic religious leaders who command the respect of muslims to campaign against IS to prevent their fellow Muslims from falling prey to IS and protect the young from extremism.