MANILA - It is only a matter of time before Abu Sayyaf proclaims a replacement for their slain leader, Isnilon Hapilon, a Muslim scholar said Tuesday.
Hapilon, Islamic State's anointed "emir" in Southeast Asia, took fighters from his Abu Sayyaf faction to join forces with the Maute clan and storm Marawi City in May.
A nighttime military assault killed Hapilon inside Marawi's shrinking battle zone, together with the Omar Maute, last of the Maute brothers leading the siege, authorities said Monday.
Abu Sayyaf can choose Hapilon's successor from its other factions in Sulu and Basilan, just like how they did after the deaths of their former leaders, Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sabaya, said Professor Julkipli Wadi.
"Siguro itong mga ilang linggo o buwan may lalabas d'yan, magpapakilalang bagong leader nila," Julkipli Wadi, former dean of University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies, told DZMM.
(Perhaps after a few weeks or months, someone will emerge there as their new leader.)
Wadi also noted that Radullan Sahiron, a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, is still believed to be hiding in his group's "traditional lairs" in the south.
Other members of the Maute clan meanwhile can sustain their alliance with the Abu Sayyaf, the professor added.
Authorities will remain on alert for any possible attacks by groups allied with Abu Sayyaf and Maute, military spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla Jr. said Tuesday.
State troops, Padilla added, were also hunting down some 6 to 8 foreigners who have taken over the assault in Marawi, including Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian who allegedly helped put together the alliance between Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters.
More than 300,000 Marawi residents have been displaced by the fighting, which authorities say has killed 824 rebels, 47 civilians and 162 troops.
The occupation has been the biggest internal security crisis in the Catholic-majority Philippines for years, compounding fears that Islamic State's extremist agenda and its advanced recruitment methods are more widespread than previously thought.