IS galvanized in Asia by Philippine city siege, report says
The attack by Islamic State group-affiliated militants on a Philippine city has galvanized its Southeast Asian supporters and spells trouble for the region, a top terrorism researcher said Friday as the occupation of Marawi nears two months despite a sustained military offensive.
In a new report, Sidney Jones, an expert on militant networks in Southeast Asia at the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said there now may be a higher risk of attacks in other Philippine cities and co-operation between militants across regional borders could expand. Militants in Indonesia and Malaysia will want to redouble efforts to attack police and may also lift their sights to targeting foreigners, she said.
“The initial photographs from Marawi released over social media as the ISIS assault began — smiling fighters hold guns aloft on trucks — seemed to have the same impact as the iconic ISIS victory photos from Mosul in 2014,” Jones said, using another acronym for IS and referring to its past occupation of Iraq’s secondlargest city. “They generated a shared sense of triumph and strengthened the desire of ISIS supporters in the region to join the battle.”
Waving IS-style black flags, the heavily armed fighters stormed into Marawi, a centre of Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, on May 23, occupying buildings, houses and mosques and taking hostages. Foreign fighters, including 20 Indonesians, joined the insurrection, which officials and researchers say received funding locally and from IS in Syria that was co-ordinated by a Malaysian known as Mahmud bin Ahmad.
At least 565 people, including 421 militants and 99 soldiers and police, have been killed in the worst urban uprising by Muslim militants in the volatile southern Philippines in decades. Nearly half a million residents have been displaced in Marawi and outlying towns by the fighting.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday the Marawi crisis should be over soon, but that he has asked troops not to launch an all-out assault that might prompt the militants to kill their hostages.
“We’ll just have to wait it out. I told them, ‘do not attack,”’ Duterte said in a speech at a business conference in the southern Philippine city of Davao. “If we have to wait there for one year, let us wait for one year.”
Military officials have said 300 civilians may be held by the militants or trapped in their homes by the fighting.
Jones said Indonesians and Malaysians who joined the fight in Marawi could return to their countries, and with their high prestige provide new leadership, uniting factionalized proIS cells.
But a Malawi-style attack in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is unlikely because unlike the southern Philippines, it does not have the multiple insurgencies that extremists can draw on for fighters and weapons, she said.
Philippine Air Force fighter jets bomb suspected locations of Muslim militants as fighting continues in Marawi city, southern Philippines.