Philippine Abu Sayyaf militants 'hungry' to establish caliphate, says Duterte

The Philippine defence department says there were no formal links between the group and ISIS.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday that the Abu Sayyaf militants were "hungry" to establish a caliphate in South-east Asia as the government toughens its stance on the group after the deadly attack in Davao earlier this month.

Duterte, who is known for his expletive-laced speeches, said the group was no longer just after money from criminal activities. He threatened to eat the militants alive in a bloodthirsty vow of revenge for the Davao bombing that killed 15 people.

"If I have to face them, you know I can eat humans. I will really open up your body. Just give me vinegar and salt, and I will eat you (militants)," Duterte told The Jakarta Post in an interview early this month.

Several units of the Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group but the experts said the militants are more interested in funding than ideology.

"They are hungry for a fight to establish a caliphate in South-east Asia. Caliphate is a kingdom for the Muslims," Duterte told AFP on Saturday.

Referring to the previous local services the militants have asked for he added: "The problem is that they do not talk on the basis of what school you can give them. It's either the caliphate or nothing."

The Abu Sayyaf group, a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency, has been responsible for a series of abductions and has developed a reputation of ruthless kidnappers in recent times.

The group is blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippines and has already beheaded foreigners, including two Canadians in April and June after ransom deadlines lapsed.

The group has claimed more than 120,000 lives since the 1970s.

However, the Philippine defence department said there were no formal links between the group and ISIS which holds vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

"They are ISIS inspired and not actually ISIS supported. They are just ISIS wannabes," defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.

Initially, Duterte pleaded for peace with Abu Sayyaf. He restarted peace talks with the country's two major Muslim rebel groups since he came to power. But now he has hardened his position and branded them as terrorists.

Last month, he ordered the military to "destroy" them.

Duterte sent thousands of troops to Abu Sayyaf strongholds in the southern islands of Jolo and Basilan. According to the military, 15 soldiers and 32 militants were killed in an assault there.

The rise of kidnapping incidents at sea has prompted Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia governments to try to coordinate maritime patrols in order to control such incidents.