MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday ordered the army to destroy the small but violent Abu Sayyaf militant group saying if not, the Philippines risked being “contaminated” by Islamic State.
The mostly Christian Philippines has for decades battled rebels from the Muslim minority but while progress toward peace has been made with the main insurgent faction, Abu Sayyaf militants have remained ruthless enemies of the state.
“Destroy them, that’s an order,” Duterte told soldiers at an army base in the southern province of Zamboanga del Sur on violence-plagued Mindanao island.
He described Abu Sayyaf as terrorists and bandits who kill civilians for no apparent reason, and ruled out negotiations.
Abu Sayyaf militants, notorious for extortion, kidnappings and bombings, beheaded two Canadians kidnapped this year from a tourist resort. They recently freed 18 Indonesians and Malaysian tugboat crew members after getting ransom.
In June, a video appeared online showing Islamic State accepting the allegiance of Abu Sayyaf fighters, in the first formal recognition of a Southeast Asian group by Islamic State, counter-terrorism officials said.
Action was necessary now, or the Philippines risked being “contaminated by the ISIS disease”, he said, referring to Islamic State.
“I see a looming problem, in three to seven years from now, we will have a problem with ISIS,” Duterte said, promising the army modern equipment to fight Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte, who has been touring army camps since coming to power five weeks ago, said he planned to recruit 20,000 more soldiers to help protect the country’s territorial integrity.
“We want to control all areas and we don’t want to lose any territory,” he said, reiterating a close alliance with the United States in fighting Islamist militancy, and in the Philippine maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea.
The Abu Sayyaf are holding several foreign hostages, from Norway, the Netherlands and Malaysia.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)