JAKARTA/BANGKOK: A merger of terrorist groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State in the Philippines could signal a new threat to the region should radicals from Indonesia also join forces, according to an expert on violent extremism.
A new video from the strife-torn southern Philippines island of Mindanao suggests four Islamic terrorist groups in the long-running insurgency have joined to declare allegiance to IS.
The video purports to show militants carrying IS flags and the heavily armed commanders of the groups that had declared their allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was “concerned about the growing influence” of Islamic State in the region and increased co-operation between security agencies was under way in response to the threat posed by these and other extremists.
The groups, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf, have for years justified using violence for extreme Islamist causes, but analysts say they have presented an ideological facade to cover criminal acts, including lucrative kidnappings for ransom.
“This could set a precedent in the region of disparate groups coming together and declaring bayah (pledging allegiance),” said Professor Anne Azza Aly, an expert on violent extremism, from Edith Cowan University.
“I think the level of transnational co-ordination that could come out of that between a group in Indonesia and a group in the Philippines would signal a heightened threat for Indonesia as well as for the region.”
The southern Philippines groups are already known to have recruited several notorious Indonesian terrorists, including militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for the Bali bombings and other attacks in south-east Asia over a decade.
In late November Philippine soldiers said they had killed Indonesian Ibrahim Alih, also known as Abdul Fatah, who was linked to the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004.
An Islamic State militant holds the group’s flag as he stands on a tank they captured from Syrian government forces in the town of Qaryatain, south-west of Palmyra, in August.
Former Australian Federal Police expert and counter terrorism specialist Mark Briskey said the Mindanao conflict “poisons the entire region”.
“We’ve seen connections from the region over to Malaysia and certainly to Indonesia. It’s been an ongoing sore,” Dr Briskey said.
Indonesian police reacted cautiously to the apparent merger in Mindanao and any regional implications.
Indonesian National Police spokesman Agus Rianto said the threat to Indonesia depended on whether extremist groups in the two countries “communicate and make a synergy”.
“Many in Indonesia have claimed they supported ISIS but so far, thank God, no big problems have occurred,” he said.
He said Indonesia was co-operating with neighbouring countries, including police in the Philippines.