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ISIS Looks to Rebound in the Philippines—And Spread


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Mar. 1 2018

Bottom Line: Although the Philippine army managed to suppress an ISIS-affiliated rebellion in the country’s southern island of Mindanao last summer, ISIS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq continue to trickle into the country and pose a growing jihadist threat throughout Southeast Asia. The U.S. and the Philippines have further bolstered their defense cooperation in light of these developments, yet the Philippines’ disparate geography, combined with the central government’s failure to provide key services to remote areas of the country, has permitted jihadists to mark the Philippines as a long-term launching pad for their operations across the region.

Background: Last May, Philippine forces encountered an unprecedented jihadist uprising as hardcore ISIS fighters managed to seize the city of Marawi located in the southern island of Mindanao for a five-month period.

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Issue: Despite being ousted from the city of Marawi, ISIS aims to regroup in Mindanao and has its amplified its force size in recent months as militants have arrived from Syria and Iraq. In addition, the country’s island geography has complicated Manila’s centralized authority, particularly over Mindanao, affording jihadist groups the opportunity to establish save havens in inadequately governed territory.

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Response: As Philippine security forces battled throughout the summer to retake the city of Marawi from ISIS-linked militants, the U.S. provided the Philippine army with military equipment as well as technical assistance, such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. To further combat the alarming jihadist threat in the Philippines, the U.S. has also doubled down its security assistance to Manila particularly in the midst of positive relations between U.S. President Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

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ISIS alive and well in the Philippines

New military-militant clashes show Islamic State's local affiliates have regrouped and spread since last year's siege of Marawi

Bong S Sarmiento Mindanao,

March 12, 2018

Almost five months after Philippine troops flushed out Islamic State-aligned militants in the southern city of Marawi, fierce clashes erupted anew in restive Maguindanao province, leaving 44 Islamic militants killed, according to the military. The dead — although their number could not be independently verified — belonged to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which like the Maute Group that laid siege to Marawi in May 2017, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

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Following the liberation of Marawi from the Maute Group in October 2017, populist President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that Islamic State-affiliated militants were still actively recruiting and regrouping to sustain their drive to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia. Duterte, who placed the entire Mindanao under martial law in the wake of the Marawi siege and later extended the rights-curbing measure through December 2018, has also warned that Islamic militants and their supporters would avenge their defeat at Marawi, including through possible lone wolf attacks on key cities across the country.

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He said officials are verifying reports that militants from Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which sent fighters to Syria and Iraq, are leveraging vast and porous maritime borders to enter Mindanao and spread Islamic State ideology, both locally and throughout Southeast Asia. Malaysian and Indonesian fighters were confirmed to have joined the Marawi siege last year.

Major General Arnel dela Vega, 6th Infantry Division commander, said intelligence information shows that the BIFF is consolidating its forces in the region, seen in the fresh clashes over the weekend. “(We are) very determined to defeat the threat group and thwart them from doing terroristic activities in Central Mindanao,” the military official said. While that may be the case, it’s also clear the threat is fast spreading across a wider geography.

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