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MILF: ISIS putting up PH stronghold

KUALA LUMPUR—The Islamic State is trying to establish a stronghold in Mindanao, the head of the nation’s biggest Muslim rebel organization warned Monday.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim said the extremist IS seeks to capitalize on growing frustration over the breakdown of efforts to end a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern Mindanao region.

The peace process has been frozen since Congress failed last month to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law that would have granted greater autonomy to the region.

MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim (Photo from wikipedia.org)
“Now, after the non-passage of the [bill], we are quite concerned that they [the IS] can capitalize on this, because the sentiment of the people in the area is now very strong. The frustrations after the non-passage of the law­—they can capitalize on that,” Murad told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Gunmen pledging allegiance to the jihadists controlling vast swathes of Iraq and Syria have instigated a series of deadly battles with the Army in Mindanao since Congress failed to pass BBL.

Murad said the MILF was seeking dialogue with IS-allied militants to dissuade them for further attacks.

But the military questioned Murad’s assessment, saying the MILF was merely using the IS—also referred to as Daesh—to gain attention. 

“We believe that the names of big groups like the Daesh are only being brought into the conversation because of their desire to get further attention from many of the players out there in the field,” said Brig. Gen. Resituto Padilla, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Padilla dismissed reports about the presence of Islamic terrorists.

“There is no direct verifiable and credible presence of any international groups within the area,” he said.

Padilla said the military did not put much stock in Murad’s statement, but took seriously the ability of local terrorist groups to recruit young members.

Vice presidential candidate Senator Gregorio Honasan II on Monday urged the intelligence service of the AFP to verify and validate the presence of the Daesh in Mindanao.

Violence has plagued Mindanao for decades during a Muslim separatist insurgency that has claimed 120,000 lives.

The MILF signed a peace accord with the government in 2014 to end its struggle for independence, which began in the 1970s. 

Despite the non-passage of the BBL, the MILF has pledged to honor a ceasefire while it awaits elections at mid-year.

“We cannot completely abandon armed struggle, but we always believe we have to give supremacy, primacy to the peace process because we believe the solution to the problem is still political,” Murad said.

Topics: MILF , ISIS , AFP , putting up PH stronghold , PH
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