By Daniel Llanto
FilAm Star Correspondent
Random attacks by dozens of Filipino terror groups linked to Islamic State (ISIS) are feared likely to avenge the reported killing of ISIS top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on October 27 by US Special Forces in northwest Syria.
This as Malacañang noted that the death of a leader of a terrorist network does not necessarily mean the end of that group.
Rohan Gunaratna, professor of security studies at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore, said: “As you know, more than three dozen groups have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. In Southeast Asia alone, there are more than 100 networks that pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. So it is very likely that at least some of these groups will mount revengeful attacks, or what they call retribution attacks.”
Gunaratna said the ISIS’ relative decline in the Middle East and the emergence of its “provinces” elsewhere such as in the Philippines means its ideology, influence and malevolence lives on.
“I think it was important that he was killed. Al-Baghdadi was a very ruthless and a very cruel leader. And he created a very effective legend, that he was the caliph, the leader of the Islamic State,” Gunaratna said.
“It has been shattered. But he has invested a lot of time and energy and organization to mobilize tens of thousands of people around the world. And now the world has to deal with those people,” he added.
The loss of al-Baghdadi, Gunaratna said, will further de-centralize ISIS and push its regional tentacles to organize on their own. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest when cornered in a raid by US special forces.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo agreed for the most part. He said this was good news for countries that have been terrorized by ISI. “But then again, the leader of one group does not mean the extinction of that band of terrorists. We know that for a fact,” the Palace official said at a news conference.
Panelo cited the case of Osama bin Laden who was succeeded by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri as leader of terrorist organization al-Qaeda following bin Laden’s death in an operation by American forces in 2011.
The same view came from Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana who said al-Baghdadi’s death was a blow to the Islamic State because of his stature as a leader but “somebody will take his place” to lead the group.
“But then, it may also cause discouragement on the part of the terrorist groups. But as far as we are concerned, whether the leader dies or not, we will secure that part of our country from them,” Panelo said, referring to Mindanao where the ISIS-linked terror groups operate.
Several extremist groups based in Mindanao have pledged allegiance to ISIS since it came to prominence for its ruthlessness and destructiveness in the Middle East in 2014.
The Maute group, named after the family that formed it, laid siege to Marawi City in May 2017. The 5-month battle with government forces killed more than 1,000 people and, security experts said, marked the undeniable entry of ISIS ideology — the attempt to carve out an Islamic territory based on a brutal interpretation of the religion — into the Philippines.
There is also the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIMF) led by Esmael Abdulmalik blamed for several bombings in central Mindanao.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) faction in Basilan province led by Furuji Indama carried out what was believed to be the first suicide bombing in the Philippines.
Sawadjaan is known to be the leader of ISIS in the Philippines. Security officials earlier said he was harboring at least seven foreign terrorists in his hideout in Sulu to train suicide bombers, if not to do it themselves.
But all in all, the military downplayed the threat from local terrorists, saying it “seriously doubts” there would be retaliatory attacks.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said government forces on the ground are nonetheless “ready for any eventuality.”