PETALING JAYA: The Philippine military believes two militants are looking to replace Isnilon Hapilon as Islamic State (IS) leader in the region, with an analyst naming them as Malaysian Amin Baco and Abu Sayyaf faction leader Furuji Indama.
Philippine media quoted the military’s western Mindanao command chief Lt Gen Carlito Galvez Jr as saying troops were pursuing groups headed by the two militants, whose identities he declined to reveal.
“Yes, there are two possible listed replacements, but we refuse to identify them because… it will create hype,” Philippine Star quoted him as saying.
Galvez added however that whoever eventually became the new leader would suffer the same fate as Isnilon, who was killed in October during the siege on Marawi city.
More than 1,100 people, mostly terrorists, were killed in the five-month battle in Marawi where IS-affiliated groups tried to create a caliphate for the region.
At the end of the war, the Philippine military said it believed Sabahan Amin had been killed in the clashes.
Philippine police meanwhile said Amin could be the new regional leader based on the testimony of a captured Indonesian militant in Marawi.
The Philippine military refuted this claim, but later retracted and said Amin could be among 10 potential successors to Isnilon.
Last month, Malaysian police revealed that Amin was the son-in-law of Isnilon, which analysts believed made the seasoned and well-connected militant an even stronger candidate for the terror group’s regional leadership.
“Reading between the lines, it may be that Amin has indeed got the appointment as new leader,” Paweł Wójcik, a Polish analyst focusing on Southeast Asian terrorism, told FMT.
“And the armed forces are reluctant to admit that they had let the Malaysian militant escape Marawi.
“The other candidate the Philippine military refused to name could be Furuji, although Abu Sayyaf as a whole doesn’t seem to have pledged allegiance to IS.”
In October, FMT broke the news that Amin’s son, a boy about 13 years old, had fought alongside him in Marawi.
While dozens of local children were reported to have joined their militant parents in the battle, the Malaysian boy was the only foreign minor to have fought in Marawi.
Malaysian police recently revealed that the boy was still alive and could be in Basilan, where Isnilon’s group is based.
A former hostage in the Marawi war told FMT if Amin was still alive and his son was in Basilan, Amin must be on the island province too, as the two had never left each other’s side during the Marawi war.
Earlier, other warlords, including leader of the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Esmail Abdulmalik @ Abu Turaifi, were also touted to be IS emir candidates for Southeast Asia.
Experts however cautioned that official appointments usually came from IS central in Iraq and Syria.
But the group has lost its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria and is said to have dispersed, returning to their home nations or heading to other conflict areas following offensives by coalition forces.