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Philippine Leader Asks Ex-Muslim Rebels to Help Battle IS-Linked Militants

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
2019-02-12
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Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group that signed a 1996 peace pact with the Philippine government, arrive at Patikul town, on the volatile southern Philippines island of Jolo, to seek the release of foreign and Filipino hostages long held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, Jan. 15, 2013.
Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group that signed a 1996 peace pact with the Philippine government, arrive at Patikul town, on the volatile southern Philippines island of Jolo, to seek the release of foreign and Filipino hostages long held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, Jan. 15, 2013.
AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked former Muslim rebels to fight alongside government soldiers against Islamic State-linked militants in the south, two weeks after a deadly bomb explosion in Jolo island, according to the presidential palace Tuesday.

In a visit to the southern town of Buluan in Maguindanao province Monday evening, Duterte rallied the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the government’s side and said a breakaway faction – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – knew nothing except to kill.

“The ISIS has violent ideology. It’s not Muslim. Their interpretation of Quran was corrupt. They know nothing but to kill. They will teach us how to kill? What will happen to our children?” Duterte said, referring to the other acronym for the Islamic State (IS).

“It’s the ideology of Arabs. Not ideology of Maguindanao. Our only commonality is Islam. But Islam does not say we should kill each other,” he said, according to transcripts of his speech made available to reporters Wednesday.

Duterte made the appeal after the ratification of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which created an autonomous region known by its local acronym as BARMM, the final step in the 2014 peace agreement between the Manila government and the MILF.

The law aims to give the impoverished south an expanded autonomous area, offering self-determination to the nation’s four million Muslims by empowering them to elect their own parliament.

Last month, two bombs exploded at the Catholic church in Jolo, killing 23 people and wounding more than 100 others. The attack was blamed on another group, the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf, and was launched as thousands of troops had been deployed to Jolo to crush them.

Two days after the blast, unidentified men lobbed a grenade inside a mosque in nearby Zamboanga city, killing two Muslim religious leaders and wounding four people.

Duterte has blamed “suicide bombers” for the Jolo blast, and local police said the Abu Sayyaf had worked with two foreigners to launch the attack.

The military also blamed Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan as the mastermind. Sawadjaan has been tagged by the United States as the likely next leader of the Islamic State in the country, after the death of Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi city two years ago.

“You will have to fight the ISIS. They would create hell for us,” Duterte said. “We are not here talking to destroy the future and our family. We are here planning for what we can do to them, so that by the time they are the father and mothers of the community, they would know what to do and make it more comfortable for our children.”

On Sunday, police arrested a suspected Abu Sayyaf member who was believed behind the bomb explosion that killed seven people and wounded dozens at a bus terminal in southern city of Kidapawan on Oct. 10, 2002.

National police director chief Oscar Albayalde said the suspect, Abdurahman Mataud Daiyung, who was also accused of involvement in the beheading of five plantation workers on June 11, 2001, in nearby Basilan island, was arrested in Manila.

National Capital Region police chief Guillermo Eleazar said Daiyung has been in Manila for only a few months and has been working as a welder.

“We are not clear yet as to his purpose here, but clearly he is one among the suspects and responsible in the bus terminal bombing,” Eleazar told reporters in a news conference in Manila Tuesday.

Founded in the early 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and beheading in southern Philippines over the past decade. The group was blacklisted by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.

It is the smallest, but considered the most brutal, of several armed groups that operate in the restive south. The BIFF, meanwhile, broke away from the MILF after the latter decided to negotiate peace and a Muslim autonomy in the south, dropping its bid for independence.

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