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Jakarta Post

IS setting up base in Philippines

  • Safrin La Batu

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, December 7, 2016   /  07:19 am
IS setting up base in Philippines TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo. (Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf)

The Islamic State (IS) group’s attempt to create a fully pledged wilayat or province in the southern Philippines poses a serious security threat to Indonesia, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has warned.

The group, which is currently falling back in Iraq and Syria against internationally backed anti-IS forces, is building its base in Mindanao, a restive area that borders with Kalimantan and Sulawesi, TNI commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said on Tuesday.

The number of abductions carried out by terrorist groups from commercial vessels passing through southern Philippines’ waters indicated that IS militants in the area are raising money to build the base, Gatot said.

“I have raised concerns about this issue for six months. IS can enter Indonesia from there [the southern Philippines],” he said on the sidelines of a seminar on terrorism in Central Jakarta.

Armed militants believed to be linked to terrorist group Abu Sayyaf have kidnapped dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors and demanded millions of dollars in ransom. It is unclear how much ransom money the group has collected so far, but the Philippines’ reported in October that Abu Sayyaf pocketed at least 353 million peso (US$7.1 million) in ransom from January to June.

Of this money, some is thought to have been paid in exchange for the release of 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian citizens, although the Indonesian government has denied paying any ransom for their release.

Abu Sayyaf has pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, IS supreme leader, or “caliph”, who has appointed former Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, aka Abu Abdullah Al-Filipini, as leader of IS forces in Southeast Asia.

Gatot argued that the IS group, which he said was motivated more by economic factors than ideology, had chosen Southeast Asia as its future headquarters because its lucrative financial sources in the Middle East had been severely reduced.

Terrorism analyst Al Chaidar said that it was Al-Baghdadi himself who chose the southern Philippines as the IS base in Southeast Asia.

The IS caliph had planned to appoint Indonesian firebrand cleric and Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) leader Aman Abdurrahman as IS leader in the region, but Aman is currently in jail, he added.

“It is Al-Filipini who will give orders to all [IS] members here in Southeast Asia,” Al Chaidar said.

The analyst said the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar could escalate the security threat in the region as IS could use it as a pretext to call on its foreign fighters to flock to Southeast Asia to wage violent jihad against the government in Myanmar. “If the Rohingya Muslims fight back, then there is a legitimate reason [for IS] to send help,” Al Chaidar said.

The persecution by the Myanmar military of the Rohingya Muslim minority has already triggered protests from some Muslims in Indonesia. Last month, thousands of people from various Islamic organizations took to the streets in Jakarta to protest against what they described as “a genocide against the Rohingya”.

Meanwhile, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said that Aman’s JAD was currently the most dangerous terrorist organization in the country. “JAD is the [group we are] most wary of but there are still other networks too. But the one that has a direct connection with global networks is JAD,” BNPT head Comr. Gen. Suhardi Alius said at the seminar.

National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said JAD was more radical than terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the al-Qaeda-linked group that orchestrated the first Bali bombing in 2002, since the former targeted not just non-Muslims and the West but also Muslims who do not follow its tenets.

“IS is more powerful than al-Qaeda,” Tito said, adding that although Amman was being held in prison, ideologues in the organization could still plot terrorist attacks.

A number of terrorist attacks in the country are believed to have been linked to JAD, including the attacks on Jl. Thamrin in Central Jakarta in January and an attack at Oikumene Church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, last month.

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