A video has emerged showing the leader of Abu Sayyaf (a militant Islamist group based around the islands of Jolo and Basilan in south-western Philippines) swearing allegiance to the leader of Islamic State, reports Rappler, a digital news website based in the Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf leader is shown marching with other extremist leaders from the islands of Sulu and Basilan, including the leader of Ansar al-Khilafa, among the most aggressive Filipino groups linked to IS.
Over Christmas 11 civilians were killed by the Bangsamoro (local term for Muslim people) Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who are opposed to peace talks with the government. There was speculation that BIFF’s attack was partly influenced by the notoriety of Islamic State.
For more than four decades, Islamist groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the Mindanao island group of southern Philippines.
Another group in Mindanao, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has also fought to create an independent Islamic state. In July 2013, MNLF’s then-chairman declared a breakaway Bangsamoro republic on the main island of Mindanao, but this led to major fighting in the city of Zamboanga as Philippines’ government forces eventually retook control in Sep. 2013.
“We want to establish our own Bangsamoro government, not an autonomous government but we want an independent Mindanao as Bangsamoro nation,” an MNLF spokesman said at the time.
The Philippines government has been debating in Parliament how to frame and introduce the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which seeks to address the “longing for genuine self-governance of the Bangsamoro and embodies the political agreements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [another group] with the government”, in the words of a Mindanao Catholic Archbishop. He has warned of the possible rise of Islamic extremism if the government fails to implement a peace deal with Moro rebels in the region. The Bangsamoro Electoral Code is due to hold its first elections on the first Monday of May 2016.
In a response to the video reported by Rappler, security officials in the Philippines said on 12 January that southern rebels are not linked to Islamic State. They dismissed the video showing leaders of extremist groups showing allegiance to IS as “propaganda”.