THE military has declared that it may take some time before the Daulah Islamiyah (DI), the local front of the Islamic State (IS) in the country, could recover following a series of setbacks the extremist group has sustained, the latest of which was the slaying of Salahuddin Hassan, its overall leader.
In fact, the group, the military predicted, may not even be able to withstand its latest loss.
Hassan, the so-called emir of the DI-Philippines, was neutralized during a joint operation by policemen and soldiers in Maguindanao a week ago, according to the military.
He died just months after assuming the mantle of leadership of the DI-Philippines following the military’s killing of Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan in Sulu in July last year.
The death of Hassan was a strategic accomplishment for the military, coming at a time when the terrorist group, intent on reorganizing for yet another offensive following its defeat in Marawi City, is already on the retreat from its traditional grounds in Western Mindanao, particularly Lanao del Sur and Sulu.
“This is a significant blow against the DI and another victory in our thrust against terrorism. With their leader now dead, the terrorist group will certainly crumble,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Jose Faustino Jr.
COL. Pedro Balisi, commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade and leader of the operating troops who got Hassan, also believes that the death of the emir will lead to the demise of IS’s local front in Mindanao.
Other military officials see Hassan’s death as greatly weakening the leadership of, and creating a vacuum within, the local front of the IS.
The terrorist group’s search for a new emir—who should be both dedicated and notorious—may not be too easy since most of its potential leaders have also been neutralized in Sulu and Lanao del Sur: Exactly why the group had turned to Hassan, who had previously operated in Central Mindanao and not in Western Mindanao.
“Our hard work and focus in putting our resources to defeat the armed group has come to fruition. I urge you to sustain our operational gains,” Army chief Lt. Gen. Andres Centino said in his address to soldiers in the aftermath of Hassan’s death and even that of Mindanao-based communist rebel Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos.
FOR the military, the killing of Hassan in Maguindanao was “very telling.” It confirmed that the DI is already at the lowest ebb in its operations on its traditional grounds in Western Mindanao like Sulu and Lanao provinces, and the group is in retreat.
It also confirmed that the Lanao-based Maute group, from which the bulk of DI’s original members emanated, has degenerated into an insignificant force.
The DI had been operationally inactive during the past months in Western Mindanao, with only the three factions of the Central Mindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) allied with the IS putting up an irregular show of force in Maguindanao. The DI is made up of loose local terrorist groups.
The last time the DI proved it was still around in Western Mindanao was when soldiers in Lanao del Sur engaged the group after sighting 30 of its members in the forested area of Madamba and Madalum in August this year.
Right after the relatives of Sawadjaan were killed in a mid-sea operation in Sulare, Parang, Sulu in November last year, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Major Gen. William Gonzales declared that the group’s operations in the province may have been over.
Three of those killed were Sawadjaan’s cousins: Mannul Sawadjaan, Dave Sawadjaan and Madzmar Sawadjaan. Of the three, Mannul was identified as the likely successor of Sawadjaan after his death.
“The death of these seven ASG members, particularly Mannul and Madzmar, will significantly affect the local terrorist group’s organizational hierarchy operations…. Mannul is highly respected within the group,” said Gonzales at that time.
Sawadjaan assumed the leadership of the IS after the death of Isnilon Hapilon during the siege of Marawi City in 2017.
With the death of Hassan and the Sawadjaans, it may be hard for the group to scout for leaders who could steer the terrorist group in Mindanao to possibly rise again, especially given that the three factions of the BIFF are also on the run in Maguindanao.
Hassan, former leader and founder of the Al-Khobar terrorist group before he shifted to the DI, was a Jemaah Islamiyah-trained bomber and was responsible for numerous bombings in Mindanao, including the Davao night market attack, which killed 14 people.
Images courtesy of Garudeya | Dreamstime.com and AP/Aaron Favila