Philippines police looks for escaping prisoners in Kidapawan town. (Photo: AFP/VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – Philippine  Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that the country received intelligence that shows closer links between domestic militants and the self-claimed Islamic State (IS) group.

According to the minister, intelligence from allies showed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, is trying to spread into new areas of the Philippines upon the instruction of IS.

Isnilon Hapilon left his traditional area of operation on Basilan island and went to Lanao del Sur to survey a new area under IS instruction.

The army had until recently denied the existence of links between IS and Muslim militants in the Philippines and said Abu Sayyaf was had only pledged allegiance to the network to boost its profile.
Abu Sayyaf, which operates in two southern islands, has kidnapped dozens of foreigners over recent years and beheaded several of them, including two Canadians, in recent years.

The United States has a bounty of five million USD on the head of Hapilon for leading the 2001 kidnapping of 20 people, including three Americans, on a resort island. He has been identified as Abu Sayyaf's commander on Basilan.

Lanao del Sur, a province on the main southern island of Mindanao, to the northeast of the much smaller Basilan island, is also a stronghold of a the Maute rebel group, which has pledged allegiance to IS. Several of its members have been arrested for a bombing last year in which 14 people were killed.-VNA