ISIS trying to set foothold in South

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page -

MAGUINDANAO – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has warned the Philippines that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS is trying to establish a foothold in Mindanao where security forces are battling jihadist groups.

Murad Ebrahim, the chieftain of the MILF who signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, sounded the alarm, but the Aquino government and his military generals downplayed the threats – saying there is no evidence to prove that ISIS has been involved in deadly clashes in the volatile Muslim re- gion in Mindanao.

A report by the French news agency also quoted Ebrahim – who was in Kuala Lumpur recently - as saying that ISIS seeks to capitalize on growing frustration over the failure of the Philippine congress to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that lawmakers claimed had many provisions that are un- constitutional.

“Now, after the non- passage of the ( bill), we are quite concerned that they ( the ISIS) can capitalize on this, because the sentiment of the people in the area is now very strong,” Ebrahim said.

Ebrahim said the MILF was seeking dialogue with ISIS- allied militants to dissuade them for further attacks.

“We cannot completely abandon armed struggle, but we always believe we have to give supremacy, primacy to the peace process because we believe the solution to the problem is still political. As long as the peace process has a chance to move forward then we don’t want to revert to violence again,” he said.

German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle ( DW) also ran a report on this and interviewed terrorism expert Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, who heads of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

Despite Gunaratna's Gunaratna predicts that warnings, some other reISIS is close to declaring their gional security analysts are first satellite province in less concerned over whether Southeast Asia. IS can realistically take a “Regional governments foothold in southern Philipare very worried that with the declaration of an IS branch DW reported that Main the southern Philippines, nila- based analyst Dr. Steven the group will start to train Rood believes there is no evimilitants from around the dence of any operational region, and thus expand the connection between rebel threat," Gunaratna told DW. groups in the southern PhilHe pointed to a lack of ippines and IS. “A declaration political will on the part of of a province in the south Philippine leaders to diswould be, at the outset at mantle the emerging IS least, purely symbolic rather infrastructure. “Being an than ushering in a different election year, I doubt very tenor to the terrorism/ much that the President counter- terrorism dy( Aquino) will take a decision namic,” said Rood, who is the to send additional troops to Philippines' Country Reprethe region,” he said. sentative of US- funded The Asia Foundation.

Fighting in Lanao del Sur province alone have already displaced thousands of civilians. And clashes were also occurring in Maguindanao province, also in the Muslim autonomous region.

Army Colonel Billy dela Rosa, commander of the 51st Infantry Battalion, has urged villagers to return to their homes after troops claimed to have overran a camp used by jihadists in Lanao del Sur’s Butig town, but civilians refused to go back home for fear that gunmen would launch attacks again. ( With reports from AFP, DW and Mindanao Examiner)

A government photo shows President Benigno Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad Ebrahim during a meeting in Japan on August 4, 2011. ( Mindanao Examiner)

Over 20,000 civilians have fled the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur province in the restive Muslim autonomous region following weeks of deadly clashes between the military and jihadist groups. Lt. Col. Billy Dela Rosa, commander of the 51st Infantry Battalion, has urged villagers to return to their homes after troops claimed to have overran a camp used by jihadists. ( Mindanao Examiner Photo - Mark Navales)

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