Videos posted online claim to show Philippines-based Islamic State militants training. Photo: YouTube A video reportedly showing an Islamic State training camp in the Philippines. Photo: YouTube
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Bangkok: Four Islamic terrorist groups in the southern Philippines have merged to form a satellite extension of Islamic State, according to a video posted on a jihad website.
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.
The groups have, in the past, separately claimed support for IS, but the video suggests they might have agreed to consolidate their forces, creating an even more potent threat from the lawless island region bordering Malaysia.
The groups, including the brutal Abu Sayyaf, have for years justified using violence for extreme Islamic causes, but analysts say they have presented an ideological facade to cover criminal acts, including lucrative kidnappings for ransom.
Ten members of one of the groups called Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines were killed by Philippine soldiers and police in an operation on Mindanao island on November 26.
The video posted on January 4 showed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon marching with other extremist leaders who operate from bases on the islands of Sulu and Basilan. The video has since being removed.
The United States has offered $US5 million ($7.2 million) reward for the capture of the leader, who has masterminded many attacks, beheadings and kidnappings across the region over the past decade.
He is believed to have been wounded during a firefight with Philippine soldiers in October.
Hapilon first declared allegiance to IS in a video posted on YouTube in July 2014.
Southern Philippine groups have posted several propaganda videos since November, including one threatening an imminent attack on the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting of world leaders in Manila, which did not eventuate.
A video released in December purported to show fighters at secret training camp who claimed to be the “soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines”.
Photographs published by The Long War Journal showed jihadists undergoing weapons training with what appear to be US-made assault rifles, and other training.
The existence of a south-east Asian training camp run for IS has not been verified.
Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert from the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, told the Rappler online news site that a merger of fighting formations in the southern Philippines would present an unprecedented challenge to the government in Manila.
“With the proclamation of an Islamic State branch in the southern Philippines, the IS influence is likely to grow, affecting both the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia,” Dr Gunaratna said.
“Islamic State is likely to create a safe haven in Basilan and mount operations from the Sulu archipelago into both the Philippines and Malaysia.”
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