The killing of a militant leader in the Philippines has dealt Islamic State (IS) a significant blow by taking out the influential head of one of the group’s affiliates in Southeast Asia, terrorism experts said.
Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who was known as Tokboy and was the founder and leader of Ansarul Khilafa Philippines (AKP), was tracked down and shot at a beach resort on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao by security forces on Thursday, police said. Three other suspected members of AKP, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, were arrested.
“The death of Tokboy is a big loss for IS groups in Southeast Asia. At the moment, IS’s options are greatest in the Philippines because separatists there can still move freely,” Nasir Abbas, an analyst with the Consultant Center for Police and Terrorism Research in Jakarta, told BenarNews.
“The loss is because Tokboy was influential among rebel groups in the Philippines, such as AKP or Abu Sayyaf. There’s a high probability of retaliation in the Philippines,” he added.
Rohan Gunaratna, director of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the AKP headed by Tokboy is one of three militant groups that make up the official branch of Islamic State in the Philippines.
IS Philippines consists of AKP, al Harakat ul Islamiyah Basilan, led by Isnilon Hapilon, and Jund ul Tawhid, led by Amin Baco. The three groups have pledged allegiance to IS, which is based in Raqqa, Syria, and have been officially accepted by it, according to Gunaratna, a BenarNews contributor.
“Until the death of its leader, Tokboy was the most significant IS-centric threat group in the Philippines. Although its membership was largely Moro, AKP maintained extensive links with foreign terrorist groups. This included operational links with MIT, JI and several other threat groups in Southeast Asia, including provision of weapons from AKP to MIT,” Gunaratna told BenarNews on Friday.
He was referring to the militant groups Jemaah Islamiyah and the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).
“Tokboy worked with a range of threat groups in the Philippines, especially with Islamic State Philippines, led by Isnilon Hapilon, to promote the IS agenda in Southeast Asia,” he added.
Philippines: a new base for IS?
Meanwhile, IS in Southeast Asia is assessing its resources because the group’s strength is diminishing in Iraq and Syria amid government offensives against it, said Pol. Gen. Hamidin, the director of prevention at Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), citing reports from various sources.
IS is no longer able to pay salaries and its ability to fund fighter operations is limited, he said. IS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding at the IS headquarters in Rakka.
“IS at the moment is planning to move its army headquarters to northern Afghanistan, and the Philippines is being presented as a second alternative,” Hamidin told BenarNews.
Tokboy’s death creates an opportunity for the network to consider Indonesia, given its history of terrorist networks, according to him.
“The potential for revenge acts of terrorism is very high because the IS command is always the same: for those who want to fight, it’s not necessary to go to Iraq or Syria, instead you can carry out amaliyah (acts of terror) in your respective areas,” he said.
“What’s more, a characteristic of IS is that if they are attacked and defeated in one location, they order outside networks to move on their own,” he said.
The BNPT and other institutions have taken preventative measures against potential militant attacks such as tightening border security.
“Indonesian authorities have already reinforced security and mapped out terror groups quite well, so they are not able to move freely here. And we are doing massive undercover surveillance, including in cyberspace, so that we know what strategic steps must be taken next,” Hamidin said.
Philippine National Police released this undated photo of Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, also known as Tokboy. [AFP/Philippine National Police]
Malaysia: minimal effect
In Malaysia, the chief of the national police’s counter-terror special branch said he did not expect much to change in his country as a result of Tokboy’s death.
“The impact on ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and Malaysia is minimal because whenever a leader dies there will always be someone to replace him,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told BenarNews.
He pointed out that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which also aligns itself with IS, is the strongest militant group in the Philippines.
“Malaysian police acknowledge the group Tokboy is attached to, but doubt it has any effect on Malaysia. The group is just one of the four. There are three others that are still active,” Ayob said.
He named Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Maute group (IS in Lanao) as the other militant groups in southern Philippines.
Tokboy is not particularly well known in Indonesia or important to militant groups there, according to Abbas, who at one time was a high-ranking member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
He denied that Tokboy was linked to JI, the al-Qaeda-affiliated network that carried out the Bali bombings in 2002, or to the MIT group based in Sulawesi, which has been reduced to nine members following a two-year security operation in that region.
“Indonesian police have already proved that IS groups want to carry out acts of terror in Indonesia,” he said.
In November 2015, Tokboy managed to escape when Philippine Marines raided an AKP camp in Barangay Butril, Palimbang. Eight AKP members were killed during a four-hour firefight, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report published in October 2016.
The Tokboy-led AKP was responsible for an August 2008 attack in Mindanao that left two civilians dead and a series of robberies and other crimes, IPCA reported. Tokboy was arrested in July 2008, but escaped from jail in March 2010 and had been on the loose since then.