After months of buildup, which included pledges of loyalty from various local groups, the Islamic State has officially created a province in the Philippines. A newly released video from the region, which was produced in the same style as all other Islamic State provinces, offered confirmation of the new province.
The video begins by showing several “battalions” of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. This includes the Abu Dujana Battalion, Abu Khubaib Battalion, Jundallah Battalion, and the Abu Sadr Battalion. These battalions joined others from ASG, including Jund al Tawhid, Ansar al Sharia, and Marakah al Ansar in pledging bayah to the Islamic State. Additionally, some of ASG’s leadership, including overall leader Isnilon Hapilon (who is shown in the video), have pledged to the jihadist group.
Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, was again confirmed as the leader of all of the Islamic State’s forces in the Philippines. In an April issue of the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter Al Naba, the jihadist group said that Hapilon, also known as Abu Abdullah al Filipini, had been appointed as emir. In a portion of the video featuring a Filipino fighter in Raqqah, Syria, he confirms the Al Naba report.
Hapilon is the senior most figure to have defected to the Islamic State in the Philippines. The video also confirms that a formal leadership structure for the Islamic State has indeed been put into place, exemplifying its expansion in the country. This was also seen earlier this month in an infographic released by the ‘Amaq News Agency, one of the jihadist group’s news outlets. The infographic included several important facts from the Islamic State in the Philippines, including the number of groups that have pledged allegiance and where they operate. (See Threat Matrix report, Islamic State details activity in the Philippines.)
While the infographic contains numbers from April 2015, it also notes the first official announcement of Filipino jihadist groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State occurred in January 2016. Videos and reports of groups pledging bayah have emerged since 2014, shortly after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, claimed the creation of a caliphate. The video in January, however, was the first time the Islamic State publicly accepted these pledges. A month later, the Islamic State’s Furat media outlet released another video showing more groups pledging allegiance.
These groups include the aforementioned battalions of ASG, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines, the Islamic State in Lanao, Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (a group formerly loyal to al Qaeda), and parts of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Their claimed areas of operation largely correspond with the reported areas of the aforementioned groups. This includes the southern areas of Basilan, South Cotabato, Sulu, Sarangani, Lanao del Sur, and the northern province of Isabela.
Several of these groups, including Ansar Khilafah, the Islamic State in Lanao, and the Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad (JTJ) have publicized training camps in the region. Ansar Khilafah was the first to do so last December, while the latter two groups did so last month and in March, respectively. A video from JTJ’s training camp, the “Osama bin Laden training camp,” also publicized its loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.