Philippines says southern rebels not linked to Islamic State

MANILA (Reuters) - Islamic State militants have no known links with Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines, security officials said on Tuesday, dismissing a video suggesting as much as propaganda.

A video emerged last week indicating the possible merger of four Islamist militant groups, including Abu Sayyaf, establishing a “wilayat”, or an Islamic State province, in the southern Philippines.

“There is no credible, verified and direct link established and the possibility of establishing a satellite is unlikely,” military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters, adding some of the personalities in the video had been killed in more recent clashes with security forces.

“The recent pronouncement of Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon is part of their propaganda and does not necessarily reflect the existence of an ISIS-directed terror operation in the country.”

Hapilon, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, is the only remaining Abu Sayyaf leader left alive of five who kidnapped 20 hostages, mostly Western tourists, from Sipadan island in eastern Malaysia in 2000.

The islands of Basilan and Jolo are the strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings. It is one of the most hardline Muslim rebel factions in the Muslim south of the largely Christian Philippines.

An army intelligence official also disputed the likelihood of a “wilayat” being set up in the southern Philippines.

“The local militants are only interested in making money, and those attracted to Islamist ideology would rather travel to Syria and Iraq, especially those from Malaysia and Indonesia,” said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

“What we have in the south are pure criminals hiding behind IS masks to gain prominence and raise more ransom money.”

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie