MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine security analyst said the country should take “very, very seriously” the threat of Islamic State fighters on Pope Francis’ life, especially during his visit here in January.
Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said security officials should not be complacent “because ISIS already declared a fatwa about the need to attack the pope.”
“The pope is a symbol of ‘crusader.’ ISIS wants to elevate the narrative into religious war – a war between the Muslims and the Christians,” Banlaoi said at a forum on radicalization in Manila Oct. 2.
The Islamic State militants, based in northeast Syria and northern Iraq, said they have formed a caliphate governed by extremist Islamic beliefs. It is a Sunni Muslim organization that primarily targets Shiite Muslims, Christians, Kurds and other groups. The group’s notoriety grew after it posted online videos of mass killings of Shiites and beheadings of a Catholic American journalist and British nationals in recent months.
The same week as the forum, the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gen. Gregorio Catapang, said “there is no terror threat” to the pope and that the military was more concerned with Pope Francis possibly getting mobbed by the crowds and being injured.
The general said the military has not monitored any groups posing a threat to the pope, including the Islamic State fighters. Both the government and analysts said allegations of Islamic State group recruitment in the Philippines are still being verified.
On Sept. 28, the military announced it would add about 1,000 troops who had just returned from a U.N. peacekeeping tour of the Golan Heights to the pope’s security contingent.
In a statement Catapang said, “We believe that their exposure and experience in peacekeeping operations in Syria will be beneficial toward the successful security of Pope Francis’ papal visit to the Philippines.”
Egdon Liscano, a retired senior intelligence police officer, expressed concern that there is no definitive confirmation on whether there are Islamic State fighters in the Philippines. Liscano helped to uncover an assassination plot against St. John Paul II by al-Qaida operatives during the 1995 papal visit.
Liscano told Catholic News Service the similarities of the Islamic State warning against Pope Francis and what happened 20 years ago are “striking, and it’s feeling uncomfortable until you have some degree of information.”