KUALA LUMPUR: A notorious Abu Sayyaf group sub-commander, Furuji Indama, is seen as a future successor to replace slain militant Isnilon Hapilon as emir of Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, according to a regional security source.
Hapilon was killed on Monday (Oct 16) in Marawi city, southern Philippines, along with Omar Maute of the Maute Group.
Both men led a coalition of pro-IS groups to besiege Marawi city on May 23, which was declared liberated by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday.
“The person likely to replace Isnilon Hapilon is Furuji Indama, not Malaysian Dr Mahmud Ahmad,” a regional security source told Channel NewsAsia.
Dr Mahmud Ahmad is currently hunted by the Philippine armed forces in Marawi, which alleged that he, together with Hapilon, helped plan and fund the siege to the tune of US$600,000.
Unconfirmed reports say Mahmud is believed to be dead, killed in mopping-up operations by the military.
According to security sources, Filipino militants do not easily accept foreigners as their leaders in a culture where family and clan ties play an important role.
“It is a local terrorist who will become a leader as Mahmud will not have the full support of Filipino IS militants,” said the source.
“Filipinos have this culture where loyalty is given to a leader who is of their kind. Filipinos are clannish.”
According to Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in Washington DC, Indama has been around for a long time.
“He’s (Indama) has been around forever … a long-time Basilan cell leader. He fought in some of the real nasty conflicts and (was) responsible for a lot of beheadings,” said Prof Abuza, who specialises in terrorism, insurgencies and politics in Southeast Asia.
The Philippine military described Indama, who is based on Basilan island, as a high-value target.
Indama led a bloody attack against soldiers on Basilan island in April last year in a gun battle that lasted 10 hours, killing 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf fighters.
“There is no evidence to show that he (Indama) is a brilliant strategist,” Prof Abuza added. The initial plan was to have Indama named as Hapilon’s successor while Mahmud acted as the brains behind the group, said the source.
Mahmud was Hapilon's second-in-command in IS' Southeast Asia "caliphate", according to a July report by Indonesia-based Institute of Policy Analysis and Conflict.
But now that there is a possibility that Mahmud may be dead, the plan could well be thrown into doubt.
The possible death of Mahmud is a blow to pro-IS groups in the southern Philippines as he was well-connected and adept at fund-raising.
“I think the (possible) loss of Mahmud is three-fold. First, he had clear connections to IS leadership and was able to bring in funding and help get Marawi featured in IS central propaganda,” said Prof Zach.
“Second, he was a key recruiter and conduit for foreign fighters to come into Marawi. Finally, he was one of the few people to be able to get different IS-pledged groups in the Philippines to cooperate, and to great effect,” Prof Zach added. “In a way, that requires an outsider.”