Foreign fighters from the Asean region are most likely to pledge allegiance to Malaysian militant Amin Baco, who is tipped as one of several candidates for Islamic State’s (IS) top leadership position in the region, an analyst said.

Amin was reported to have been killed at the end of the Marawi war.

However, the Philippine military later issued statements saying he could be one of 10 militants likely to replace slain IS emir-designate for Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon.

The list also included notorious Abu Sayyaf sub-commander Furuji Indama and the leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Esmail Abdulmalik @ Abu Turayfie.

The military’s latest statement seemed to have shortened the list of possible candidates to two, but they declined to name them.

But an analyst told he believed the two were Furuji and Amin.

Amin, still unaccounted for after the Marawi siege, is a long-time militant from Sabah and known to have an extensive network in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Malaysian counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, in November, revealed that Amin was in fact the son-in-law of Isnilon, which caught many terrorism experts by surprise.

“If Amin is alive, I believe Indonesian and Malaysian fighters, who do not want to cease fighting after Marawi, have a very strong person in Amin to gather under, that’s for certain,” Pawel Wojcik, an analyst focusing on terrorism in Southeast Asia and other regions.

“If there are foreigners trying to join the Philippine IS, they would be trying to join Abu Dar, who has been doing recruitment all over Lanao del Sur province.

“The military has reported his attempts to even radicalise displaced Marawi residents at the temporary relocation camps.”

Who reports to who?

Maute group leader Abu Dar was reported to have been recruiting fighters even before the end of the Marawi war waged by government forces against pro-IS Mate and Abu Sayyaf groups.

Despite the Philippine government’s success in retaking the city, some militants are believed to have escaped the security forces’ dragnet around the city.

“The remnants of all the groups involved in Marawi are thought to be under Abu Dar, who nominally should be placed right under Amin,” said Wojcik.

“We don’t know the command structure for sure, but Abu Dar and Abu Turayfie could be placed under Amin.

“And people from the Indonesian and Malaysian networks, like the cousin of Isnilon captured recently in Kuala Lumpur, report to Abu Dar and Abu Turayfie.

“I don’t include Furuji in the possible command structure because no one is certain what he is up to. It is not clearly known how his militant activities relate to IS.

“These are some of the things counter-terrorism officials in the region should take into consideration, especially in tackling IS leadership, recruitment and possible movement of foreign fighters in the region.

“This was recently addressed by United States’ top counterterrorism official.”

Expert says Amin Baco a temporary leader, not the emir

Other experts, however, have expressed the belief that Amin could have been the militants’ leader only in the Marawi war, not for the whole IS in southern Philippines, after Isnilon and another siege leader, Omar Maute, were killed.

Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac), in early November, said Amin might have been made the leader of the militants in Marawi.

But this did not make him the Southeast Asia emir of IS, she added.

Jones said Amin might have temporarily assumed leadership of the stragglers in Marawi, “but you can’t extrapolate from that and say that somebody is the emir”.

After the Marawi war was officially declared over on Oct 23, Philippine national police chief Ronald de la Rosa said Amin was leader of the straggling Marawi militants and also regional IS emir. He was citing information from an Indonesian militant captured in the city.

“I’m not sure on what basis the police chief made that statement. I don’t think we have any evidence to support that,” said Jones.

After it was revealed that Amin was Isnilon’s son-in-law.

“It didn’t make sense to me that Amin would be chosen emir but I also didn’t know that he was Isnilon’s son-in-law. I’m still reserving judgment,” she responded.-FMT

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