From Arab News (May 10): Abu Rami and the three states
This is not the first time Daesh has released pictures of its military training. But its latest pictures, released last Friday, catch the eye because they were for Daesh in the Philippines, what it called “The Soldiers of Khilafah in East Asia.”
The official announcement of Daesh’s presence in the Philippines was made a year ago by its leadership in Raqqa, naming Isnilon Hapilon as leader of “the State of Philippines.” Hapilon is no different from the militants of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who are generally ignorant and illiterate.
At the end of last month, the armed forces of the Philippines killed one of the most active and famous ASG militants, Muammar Askari, also known as Ammar or Abu Rami. This nickname has a story.
On the second day of my kidnapping by the ASG in June 2012, Askari came to me holding a Qur’an in his hand and asked me in broken English: “You’re an Arab and speak the language, what does this word mean?” He was referring to the word “Ramayt,” which means “threw” or “shot.” I told him what it meant, and that it refers to a person who can throw or shoot (Rami). So he said: “From now on I’m Abu Rami.” He lived and died with this nickname.
He left university after his first year and joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), after which he joined the ASG. He was only 27 when he was killed. He was the most educated among my kidnappers. Most of them did not know more than the jungles they were born in.
Every time Abu Rami felt the negotiations were going better and the money was getting closer, he would tell me: ‘You’re my brother and we’ll release you soon.’ But when the negotiations stumbled or connections were cut with the MILF, which was negotiating my release, he used to call me ‘Khawarij.’
The leader of the ASG community that kidnapped me, Kasman Sawadjan, an illiterate, used to brag about his past as a pirate in Tawi-Tawi island, claiming he looted scores of fishing boats. Sawadjan suddenly became an ASG leader.
Abu Rami frequently visited the hut where I was kept. He asked me once if the Americans are Shiite, and: “Is London in the US?” I replied: “Before my kidnapping, London was in one place and the US somewhere else, but I don’t know if that has changed after my kidnapping.”
In the southern Philippines, more than 10 groups or communities carried the ASG name, mostly based in Solo and Basilan islands. The communities comprise multiple families, each provided with weapons and food by the head of the community. The arrangement with the top ASG leadership is a fixed percentage of lootings and spoils in exchange for using the ASG banner.
Most of these communities have not joined Daesh, which has declared three states in the south: IS-Basilan, led by Hapilon; IS-Lanao, led by the Maute brothers; and IS-Maguindanao, led by Ismail Abu Bakr, or Bungos. It is unclear if the last two Daesh-declared states have pledged loyalty to Hapilon, especially since he is considered inferior for being illiterate.
Both Daesh and the ASG were against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), since the latter signed a deal with the government to establish autonomous rule for the Muslims of the southern Philippines. MILF Chairman Haji Murad Ibrahim has since been called by them an “apostate,” a common tradition of describing people as non-believers to exhibit displeasure.
Every time Abu Rami felt the ransom negotiations were going better and the money was getting closer, he would tell me: “You’re my brother and we’ll release you soon.” But when the negotiations stumbled or connections were cut with the MILF, which was negotiating my release, he used to call me “Khawarij” (astray). I asked him once if he knew what the word meant. He kept silent because he did not.
[Baker Atyani is a veteran journalist with two decades of covering militant groups in Asia. He was held captive for 18 months by the Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines. Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat]