Malaysian likely leader for regional IS


PETALING JAYA: It is possible that Sabah militant Amin Baco was in the Islamic State’s (IS) “chain of command” for Southeast Asia.

He was in postion to rise to the top leadership position if their leader was killed, an analyst said.

IS’ emir-designate for the region Isnilon Hapilon was killed during clashes with troops in the besieged southern Philippine city of Marawi last month.

The authorities said the remaining militants had been left leaderless at the end of the fighting after pro-IS groups had tried to create a caliphate in the Southeast Asia region, based around Marawi.

There were differing opinions among analysts on who would be the next leader.

Earlier this month, Philippine police chief Ronald de la Rosa said Amin was the new IS emir, based on information from a captured Indonesian militant in the city.

However, armed forces spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla later refuted this claim, saying the Sabahan had been killed with his body the subject of an intensive search.

On Thursday, the military appeared to have backtracked, with Ranao Joint Task Force deputy commander Col Romeo Brawner Jr saying Amin, along with four Filipinos, may emerge as the new leader.

This statement came after Bukit Aman counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay revealed Wednesday that Amin had married Isnilon’s daughter.

“When it comes to Marawi, it is quite hard to confirm who might have been appointed as a leader of IS in Southeast Asia,” Paweł Wójcik, an analyst focusing on terrorism issues for Polish current affairs site told FMT.

“Interim leadership in the case of IS is likely to remain just for a short while before orders are given by IS central.

“There are always options demanded by IS central to replace a ‘wali’ or emir in case of death.

“Hence, in my opinion, it is unlikely that any jihadist, who has not been given the green light by IS central, would be appointed as the highest commander of the region just because someone has risen to interim command.

“There are a few names that could be given consideration. First would be Amin, whose death in Marawi hasn’t been confirmed. According to new findings, he may have escaped before the final assault.

“Also, given Amin’s abilities at planning, charisma and intelligence, it would be highly likely for him to at least be an emir of IS networks in Sulu, Basilan and Lanao del Sur province,” said Wójcik.

The revelation that Amin had married the Abu Sayyaf leader’s daughter caught many experts and analysts by surprise.

Earlier, Amin was reported to have a Malaysian wife who lives in Tawau. He married the daughter of the late Hatib Sawadjaan, head of another Abu Sayyaf faction.

“It is usual for high-level jihadists to marry their leaders’ daughters. This is a show of friendship, stability and strengthening of long-lasting connections, practised by all jihadi groups, including Al-Qaeda.

“If the statement that Amin married Isnilon’s daughter is true, then we can safely assume that he is an important character for IS East Asia,” he said, using the name usually used by IS central for the region

The Polish analyst said there are other potential new commanders for IS in Southeast Asia.

“There is talk about an Indonesian, Bahrumsyah, an important commander based in Syria, who has been widely accused of financing and directing many plots on Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine soil,” said Wójcik.

“Others include Esmail Abdulmalik @ Abu Turaifi, leader of another pro-IS group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who remains in Cotabato.

“He is being currently hunted by the military and Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s joint operations, although his leadership style is questionable.

“There are many reports yet to be investigated by the Philippine military about new commanders based in Basilan, Lanao del Sur and North Cotabato.”

Early this month, FMT reported on a grouping of more than 120 militants, including Malaysians, believed to be in central Maguindanao.

Other IS terror groups

Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), which monitors hundreds of IS-linked communication channels, said it detected chatter about the group at least two weeks before the end of the Marawi siege.

Later, a security official said the authorities were investigating reports that a group of more than 100 militants, including “Caucasian-looking foreigners” and fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia, had arrived in southern Philippines after having trained in Indonesia.

“Rumours about a huge flow of jihadists trained in Malaysia and Indonesia were going around everyday.

“During August/September, in skirmishes in south-west of Lanao del Sur province, there were reports about a new group, consisting of Malaysians and Filipinos, who may have a totally new and unknown emir,” said Wójcik.

It has always been said, according to Wójcik, that IS central holds the main wheel when it comes to appointing its leadership in overseas wilayats or regions.

“After meeting their demands of allegiance, such as establishing a shura council, structure of command, unified leadership and gathering the groups who are likely to join them, IS checks the capability of the leadership of a wilayat or the Southeast Asian region because Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are treated as a whole despite each of them having an emir,” he explained.

“We have had many cases in which IS central intervened and established the best possible leadership they could find in the area, either via their envoys or experienced jihadists, such Isnilon Hapilon in East Asia, supported by Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad (whose body was found and confirmed by former hostages and the military).

“There are at least three cases where IS directly changed or demanded some stability, most notably in Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan.”

IS has lost its strongholds in Iraq and Syria but Wójcik believes they will relocate and reestablish contact with their overseas regions.

“IS is just about to hit the desert, but the thing is they are already running a strong insurgency that possesses safe havens in Diyala and Salahuddin in Iraq.

“Based on this, we can say that they have already relocated or are about to relocate some of their commanding centres to the said provinces.

“Hence, it won’t be difficult for them to regain their communication with overseas regions.”

Michael Quinones, TRAC’s research associate, said Amin now has the perfect history and experience to be the new leader.

“Amin Baco has the perfect history and experience to be emir as he was a major contributor to the tri-country (Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) jihadist network linked to (Indonesian group) Jemaah Islamiyah and Al-Qaeda,” he told FMT.

“He was high-profile and most wanted, well before he helped fund and execute the Marawi siege.”