MANILA - The Maute Group, extremists from southern Philippines currently embroiled in gun battle with government forces in Marawi City, was yet to be recognized by the Islamic State as its affiliate, a security analyst said Thursday.
Though Maute raised the black ISIS flag when it took over a hospital in Marawi City, there were no indications the international terror group gave its "blessing" to the Maute Group, said former National Security Council senior consultant Ashley Acedillo.
"You can call them [affiliates] when one of the recognized ISIS websites or an ISIS leader himself comes out and says that they are claiming them as one of their groups. I have not yet seen that in any open sources," he told ANC's Headstart.
"It’s really important for now that we distinguish Maute as not yet an ISIS affiliate, but rather someone who is ascribing themselves to the ISIS," he said.
Clashes between the government forces and Maute Group erupted on Tuesday, following military offensives targeting Isnilon Hapilon, supposedly the designated leader of ISIS in Southeast Asia.
Acedillo said apart from protecting Hapilon by diverting military attention, the Maute may have engaged the government to be able "be on the global stage," and he believes the group may have succeeded in this.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be an announcement from the leadership of ISIS down the road that they are praising what the Maute has done in Marawi and that they have given their blessing and with that comes actual financial support, which is crucial to any group that is doing fighting," he said.
Earlier the military said Philippines remained safe from threats from ISIS and the Maute Group's actions were only meant to gain the international terror group's attention.
"Categorically, we are saying na we do not have ISIS in the Philippines," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo said Wednesday, adding that they groups posing as such "are merely courting the acclamation of ISIS."
ISIS affiliates, duly recognized groups which carry out terror acts in the name of ISIS, operate mainly in African, Western Asia, and Southern Asia countries, according to Acedillo.
The ISIS has declared 10 countries as part of its "caliphate" and call them "ISIS provinces" and these include: Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The Philippines, Acedillo added, is "not yet" part of the list.
"I think that was the objective of Isnilon Hapilon—they gain enough traction on the world stage, enough for them to be able to declare that a certain swath of land in Mindanao, in Sabah, and in Sulawesi in Indonesia will be considered an ISIS foothold and therefore will be merited a tag of ISIS province," he said.
It is crucial for other groups to be affiliated with ISIS at this point, said Acedillo, because the core group was losing territory in Iraq and Syria and it would make more sense to fund less its troops there and send out more money in other areas.
Acedillo however argued Maute will not be able to gain foothold in any area in Mindanao since its size dwarfs in comparison to that of the government's.
"What probably is the objective of Maute here is that they are in their recruitment stage and brazen actions such as these are good platforms for recruitment because if they can do this in a short span of time, imagine if more of them are with Maute. The message is ‘we can do more’,” he said.