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Militants pledge allegiance to IS jihadists ‘No evidence that Filipino fighters being sent to Syria, Iraq’

MANILA, Aug 15, (AFP): Hardline Muslim guerrillas in the Philippines said Friday they have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, the extremist jihadists who now control large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Clips have been uploaded in recent weeks on the video sharing site YouTube showing both southern Philippines-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf rebels pledging support to the Islamic State (IS). “We have an alliance with the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama told AFP by telephone on Friday, referring to the brutal jihadist group’s leader. Misry confirmed that a YouTube video uploaded on Wednesday, showing a purported BIFF leader flanked by armed men reading a statement of support for the IS, had come from his group. BIFF split in 2008 from the Philippines’ main Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The latter signed a peace agreement with President Benigno Aquino’s government last March. BIFF, which is believed to have a few hundred fighters, has rejected the peace talks and pursued the decades-old armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in the southern Philippines which was begun by the MILF. Abu Misry, described by the Philippine military as a BIFF spokesman, said his group had no plans to impose the radical IS brand of Islam in the Southeast Asian nation. Beheadings, mass executions and the taking of child brides have marked the IS campaign across large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Abu Misry said his group had not sent any fighters from the Philippines to help the IS, nor was it recruiting people to join the IS. “But if they need our help, why not?” he added. Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for a southern Philippines-based army division, described BIFF as a “terrorist” group engaged in extortion to finance its activities. “There’s no evidence that Filipino fighters are being sent there (to Syria and Iraq),” Hermoso told AFP, while adding that both BIFF and IS followed an “extreme” brand of Islam. A purported Abu Sayyaf video has also been uploaded on Youtube showing one of the group’s most senior leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, mentioning al-Baghdadi as he read out a statement that pledged allegiance to the IS. He was filmed linking arms with more than a dozen men, some with faces swathed in fabric, as they stood at a forest clearing to pray and listen to his statement.

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