ABU Sayyaf Group sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon, an ardent supporter of the jihadist group ISIS, has moved to Central Mindanao, the lair of the Moro rebel groups, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday.
“Isnilon Hapilon has allegedly moved to Central Mindanao at the behest of the [ISIS] people in the Middle East. That’s the report that we have received,” Lorenzana said.
He said Hapilon left Basilan for Lanao del Sur in December 2016.
“We tried to find out why he is there, why he left the safety of his traditional area of operation from Basilan and went to Lanao,” Lorenzana said.
“He just brought [with him] a small band of his people. The bulk of his people are still in Basilan.
I think he went there just to see the area, to find out if it is conducive to move there and establish a caliphate. Fortunately we found out that he is there, so we are pursuing him there in Butig.”
Earlier reports said Hapilon had been the rising “figure head” of a handful of ISIS followers from different groups such as the Abu Sayyaf based in Basilan and Sulu, the Maute Group based in Butig, Lanao del Sur; the BIFF based in Central Mindanao, Ansar al-Khilafa Philippines and rogue MNLF and MILF groups.
Just recently, security officials said those homegrown terrorist groups had been uniting and evolving into just one group called Dawlatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masrik or DIWM, and had chosen Hapilon as their sole leader in their aggressive efforts to be recognized by the ISIS.
Lorenzana said the ISIS had prodded Hapilon “to find out if Central Mindanao is conducive to the establishment of an organization [provincial caliphate].”
“According to the report, Basilan and Jolo are too small, they can be easily cornered there. So they are looking for a bigger area.
“Now Hapilon is already there perhaps trying to rally the Maute Group to support the daeshor to become part of daesh. Now we are conducting operations against them in Lanao del Sur, particularly in the Butig area beside Lanao lake.”
Lorenzana said the military was also pursuing the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu.
He said the group’s transfer to Central Mindanao had a connection with the decimation of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“That’s what we got from our intelligence sources from abroad,” Lorenzana said.
“We will see to it that they will not be able to establish an organization here.”