Philippine authorities suspect the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has appointed a Malaysian bomb-making expert with ties to various jihadist groups as its new “emir” in Southeast Asia following the death of the terrorist group’s leader in the region last month.
“We are still looking for Amin Baco,” said Filipino Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, referring to the individual believed to be the prospective new “successor as the emir of those terrorists,” reports Reuters.
Citing information from an Indonesian national arrested in the Philippine city of Marawi last week, Filipino Police Chief Ronaldo de la Rosa also told Reuters he believed Baco, an explosives expert, had taken over the ISIS emir role in Southeast Asia.
Last month, the Filipino army ended its combat mission in the embattled Marawi City after killing the leaders of the nation’s two ISIS affiliates — Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf and Omar Maute of the Maute group — and allegedly dismantling the remnants of a jihadi rebel alliance.
ISIS had anointed Hapilon as the “emir” of its Southeast Asia wing, primarily based in the Philippines.
In announcing the end of military operations to liberate Marawi from ISIS terrorists, Secretary Lorenzana declared on October 23, “The Philippine security forces, aided by its government and massive support of the Filipino people, have nipped the budding terrorism infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines.”
Nevertheless, “Lorenzana acknowledged that the tactical triumph in Marawi will not eliminate Islamic State’s ideology in the Philippines, and called for stronger regional cooperation to fight the rising threat the terror group poses to Southeast Asia as fighters return home from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria,” reports Asia Times.
“While one terror battle has ended, the next one looms in the shadows on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao,” adds Asia Times.
Although the armed forces were also reported to have killed Baco in Marawi, Reuters cites unnamed intelligence sources as saying he escaped.
“He could be somewhere on Jolo island or in nearby Maguindanao,” an anonymous army colonel familiar with jihadist militant groups in the Philippine island of Mindanao told Reuters.
Referring to the army colonel, Reuters adds:
He said Baco had been in the Philippines for a long time and had links with regional extremist group Jemaah Islamiah. He was married to a daughter of a local militant sub-leader.
As early as 2011, he was facilitating movements into the Philippines of funds, arms and fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia, but his links to the Islamic State network were not known to be strong, another military intelligence official said.
Baco’s relationship with various Islamic extremist groups in Mindanao make him ISIS’s likely choice to take over its operations in the region, notes Reuters.
The months-long unrest in Marawi, the capital of the province of Lanao del Sur on the Philippine island of Mindanao, reportedly resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 people, primarily jihadists, and the displacement of an estimated 350,000 others.
ISIS affiliates shocked the predominantly Catholic Philippines, prompting concerns about the terrorist group gaining a foothold in the Muslim-majority parts of the Mindanao island.