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Mindanao terrorist groups forged unity under ISIS —security analyst

Terrorist groups in Mindanao have bonded together to form a stronger coalition under the international terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a security analyst said Thursday.

GMA News' Maki Pulido on "Balitanghali" reported that security analyst Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, Inc., said that the new terrorist group is called "Daulah Islamiyah Wilayatul Mashriq" or the "Islamic State East Asia Division."

Banlaoi said that based on his sources,  Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon—who was instrumental in unifying all Mindanao terrorist groups sympathetic to ISIS— would be the chairman of the new ISIS division.

The new group's vice chairmen would be brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute, founding leaders of the Maute Group.

Hapilon was said to be in Marawi City for the merger under ISIS instructions, Banlaoi said.

Also, he said that the formation of the new group might be the reason why the military was surprised by the big number of terrorists that attacked Marawi City last Tuesday.

The sheer number of terrorists that engaged security forces in the city did not sit well with the military's earlier claim that the attackers were only a small band of ISIS sympathizers wanting to grab the public's attention.

Citing a news report from Amaq news agency and intelligence information reaching him, Banlaoi said that ISIS has already recognized the Maute group as one of its fighters.

Terrorist groups in Mindanao are receiving funds from ISIS, he added.

On Tuesday, the military launched an operation against Hapilon following a tip that the leader was holed up with Maute group members in an apartment in Marawi. 

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police earlier insisted that there was no presence of the ISIS in the country.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs office chief, on Thursday retracted his earlier statement, saying that they will follow the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte that ISIS has already reached the country.

Duterte on Tuesday night placed Mindanao under martial law due to the clashes in Marawi City.

He cited the arrival of ISIS in the country and the open defiance of lawless armed groups in Marawi City as the "compelling reasons" for his declaration. —Marlly Rome Bondoc/LBG, GMA News