IS gal­va­nized in Asia by Philip­pine city siege, re­port says

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

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.

AP PHOTO

Philip­pine Air Force fighter jets bomb sus­pected lo­ca­tions of Mus­lim mil­i­tants as fight­ing con­tin­ues in Marawi city, south­ern Philip­pines.

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