While the Islamic State's so-called caliphate mainly holds sway over parts of Syria and Iraq, the group has officially recognized a number of provinces farther afield, including Libya and Nigeria. Aaron Zelin, an expert in jihadist movements at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says there has been no sign yet that the central Islamic State group has accepted the Filipino fighters' pledges. "So for now, it's not mutual," Zelin said via email.
The new video is another reminder, however, that the idea of the Islamic State holds considerable sway overseas and often has the ability to intertwine its message with local concerns and movements – such as the concerns of the Philippines' minority Muslim population. The Philippines may be a majority Catholic nation, but roughly 5 percent of its population are Muslims, most of whom live on the southern island of Mindanao. Since the 1970s, some in this Muslim minority (dubbed "Moros") have waged an insurgency that has used guerrilla and terrorist tactics.
Since Philippine President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010, the government has entered a peace process with the largest of these insurgent groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and proposed the creation of an autonomous region in the south. The MILF has renounced terrorism and even denounced the Islamic State for good measure. However, while the MILF's aims were always limited to Moro autonomy, a number of other groups pursued a harsher extremist line and continued terrorist attacks. One of those groups is Abu Sayyaf, which broke away from the MILF in the 1990s. The group is believed to have had links to al-Qaeda, and the United States has offered a reward of up to $5 million for the capture of group's leader, Isnilon Hapilon.
Hapilon leads the pledge to the Islamic State in the new video, with other militants suggesting that he has become the leader of the fighters in the area pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Alongside him stand scores of other fighters who appear to be from the Philippines and neighboring Malaysia – another country where domestic concerns appear to have pushed fighters toward the Islamic State. Footage released last month appeared to show a secret training camp for the Islamic State-inspired fighters.
Philippine authorities have previously downplayed the importance of the groups. "This group is trying to ride on the popularity of the ISIS, but they're not really ISIS," a military spokesman, Col. Restituto Padilla, told Agence France-Presse in November. "We view them as mere criminal gangs."