DESPITE official denials, there has indeed been recruitment of Filipinos youths in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Zamboanga Sibugay and part of the recruitment process is completed online, a retired police intelligence officials insisted on Monday.
Former National Police intelligence director Rodolfo Mendoza said the recruiters were foreigners, mostly Malaysians but also Arabs and Egyptians, who have joined causes with the local militant groups Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
“These militant organizations have responded to the recruitment by Abubak’r Baghdadi, the commander of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” Mendoza said, noting that Malaysia recently warned the government that five more Malaysian extremists are believed to be hiding in Mindanao.
But Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman also insisted that there has been no recruitment for the Islamic State in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and no movements of IS members in Basilan and Lanao del Sur have been monitored.
“Almost every week I was in Basilan when those reports came out. In fact I called the intelligence community in Basilan, the provincial director and even the battalion commander, they said they don’t know anything about it. Me, I’m sure that there is no ISIS in ARMM,” Hataman said.
At the same time, Hataman said he was outraged by the activities of the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF who are supposedly coddling foreign jihadists.
Their actions, he said, are not far from those of IS, including beheading of civilians, theft and robbery, and terrorizing and these are against the law and the Creator.
But Mendoza said it was a mistake to belittle persistent reports of Filipinos joining the IS cause, adding IS members do not carry membership cards and are not listed in membership rosters.
“They swore allegiance to the Islamic State and accept that they are part of the caliphate or its Islamic army and it’s [an almost undetectable] process done online,” Mendoza said, adding that if you have sworn to support and be part of IS then you are an IS member.
Mendoza noted that some Muslims would consider their oath “qitil fi sabil illah (or, fighting in the path of God)” and will be backed up with admirable religious zeal.
Mendoza noted that the authorities can insist on waiting for proof of the presence of IS or immediately act on local and foreign warnings.
“The mere allegiance by Filipino militants to the ISIS does not only show support but will also include acts for the for the sake of cause,” Mendoza said.
“The essential ingredients of the bayah to Baghdadi and the ISIS is an obligation and obedience clearly shows that Filipino Islamist organizations have been recruited and converted,” Mendoza said.
While the ISIS influence progresses, Mendoza reiterated his call on the government to establish an entirely different but effective strategy in dealing with the matter and cooperating with neighboring countries that have already expressed alarm at the developments.
Last week, Malaysia placed Sabah on “red alert” purportedly because of the videos showing Abu Sayyaf militants swearing allegiance to the IS. It was also at that time that they warned the Philippine government about the five unidentified Malaysian extremists.
Last week, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the Malaysian newspaper The Star that Kuala Lumpur fears an Islamic State strike along the Sulu Straits, between Sabah on the island of Borneo and the southern Philippines.
The paper quoted Hishammuddin as saying he will be meeting with Prime Minister Najib Razak to discuss allocating funds to safeguard the country’s waters.
Hishammuddin also announced that Kuala Lumpur will deploy a container freighter, MT Mas Lima, to the waters off Sabah to serve as a forward base from which they can interdict militants and criminals trying to enter Sabah.
The New York-based Soufan Group also revealed that as many as 200 Indonesians and at least 30 Malaysians have traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State and other rebel groups via countries such as Egypt and Turkey.
The extremists Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has also claimed that it sent 200 Filipino fighters in a “do or die” mission to fight alongside Islamic State rebels and were led by a leader identified only as Mohamad Husin Aljabouree.
BIFF leader Samer Samsudin claimed the BIFF fighters were able to slip out of the country from their hideout in Maguindanao by using the country’s backdoor to Malaysia, where they boarded a plane bound to the Middle East.
Also in July, videos of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon showing him pledging allegiance to the Islamic State appeared on YouTube, but security officials said it was only a ploy to raise money and there was no proof that IS is indeed Filipino youth to their cause.
But it is not the first time Malaysia terrorist would seek refuge in Mindanao after Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, alias Marwan, sought refuge from the BIFF where he is believed to be teaching Filipino jihadists how to make bombs.