Islamic State Sinks Its Teeth Into the Philippines

Image result for duterte salutes at service for dead soldier

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) salutes in front of a flag-draped casket of a slain marine at a military base in Manila on June 11, 2017, after the bodies of troops were brought back to the Philippine capital following a firefight with Muslim militants in Marawi on June 9. The June 9 street-to-street gunbattle with militants saw 13 troops killed, in a dramatic surge in the toll from the conflict, Philippine military spokesmen said. AFP

Battle for southern city, ISIS propaganda show new focus for foreign extremists

June 14, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

The signs are mounting that the Philippines is now a primary target for Islamic State.

The southern reaches of the mostly Roman Catholic country have long been home to Muslim insurgents seeking to carve out an independent state. Until now, counterterrorism officials and experts have largely viewed local declarations of loyalty to Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as little more than pleas for attention. That is changing.


One of the newest insurgent groups shocked the country three weeks ago by marching into Marawi City and waving black Islamic State flags; they are still holding around 20% of the town along with hundreds of hostages. The standoff with the Philippine military so far has claimed the lives of at least 58 security forces, nearly 200 rebels, and dozens of civilians.

Since the May 23 attack, Islamic State has taken a stronger interest in the Philippines, profiling some of the militants in its propaganda magazine Rumiyah and falsely claiming responsibility for the burning of a Manila casino that left 37 people dead; police say it was in fact a botched robbery by a heavily indebted gambler.

On Sunday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said “it appears that al-Baghdadi himself, the leader of ISIS, has specifically ordered terrorist activities here in the Philippines.” Mr. Duterte didn’t say how he knew about Mr. Baghdadi’s instructions.

A Philippine soldier takes aim at militant positions from a rooftop in Marawi on Tuesday.

A Philippine soldier takes aim at militant positions from a rooftop in Marawi on Tuesday. PHOTO: RODY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Islamic State’s spokesman, in an audio recording circulated on Tuesday, appeared to single out the Philippines for further attacks and praised the assault on Marawi.

The battle for Marawi is being waged by one of the region’s most powerful militias, and its aftermath could determine whether Islamic State can lay down a marker in the Philippines.

Some intelligence officials now worry that the Philippines’ growing profile in jihadist circles could bring more foreign fighters to its shores as Islamic State loses ground in Syria and Iraq. Amid the losses in the Middle East, Islamic State has said it was behind an array of attacks around the world, in a bid to sustain its power.

Governments across Southeast Asia and Australia already are watching the Philippines with concern as militants from Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia join the fight. The U.S. is getting involved: U.S. Special Operations Forces are providing support for the Philippine military in Marawi.

The danger, said an intelligence official in the Philippines, is that “the southern Philippines is becoming a cause célèbre again.”

The potential for recruiting the Philippines’ Muslim minority, whose lands were gradually taken over by waves of settlers under Spanish then American colonizers, has long drawn the interest of foreign jihadists.

Osama bin Laden was in regular contact with the late Muslim separatist leader Hashim Salamat, while the architect of the September 11 attacks on the U.S., Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, planned an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in Manila in the 1990s and railed against the U.S.’s support for the Philippine government in a letter to then-President Barack Obama in 2015 from detention at Guantanamo Bay.

The Philippines’ porous borders and lax immigration control also make it an attractive destination for foreign extremists, according to Sidney Jones, a terrorism expert at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta. Fighters are also attracted, in part, because some of the combatants have extensive networks, Ms. Jones said.

“They’re really quite sophisticated and have a lot of resources to draw on, and that’s attractive,” she said.

The Islamic State’s emir in the Philippines is Isnilon Hapilon, a 51-year-old commander with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which was seeded in the 1990s with help from al Qaeda. He swore loyalty to Islamic State in 2014, and since then has built an alliance with the Maute family, an aristocratic landowning clan who are able to command hundreds of followers.

Ms. Jones said the Mautes are likely the brains behind the Marawi operation, particularly 37-year-old Omarkhayam Maute.

Once the captain of the school baseball team in Marawi City, Omar, as he is known, studied Islam in Egypt and later married the daughter of an influential conservative cleric in Indonesia and has strong ties there. Indonesian armed forces chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo told reporters Monday that there were Islamic State sleeper cells in nearly every province of the country.

This image taken from undated video shows the purported leader of the Islamic State group Southeast Asia branch, Isnilon Hapilon, center, at a meeting of militants at an undisclosed location.

This image taken from undated video shows the purported leader of the Islamic State group Southeast Asia branch, Isnilon Hapilon, center, at a meeting of militants at an undisclosed location. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Omar returned to the southern Philippines where he and his brother Abdullah Maute took the reins of the family’s local militia. The militia had been used to help settle local political scores, but in 2015, the brothers publicly aligned it with Islamic State.

Their ultimate goal, senior Philippine officials said, was to take control of Marawi, the Philippines’ largest Muslim-majority city.

Militants had initially planned to take over two or three towns in all, according to foreign-affairs secretary Allan Peter Cayetano, and declare a province of the Islamic State caliphate among the rugged mountains and forests around Lake Lanao on the island of Mindanao.

Armed forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the military caught a break when soldiers inadvertently interrupted the planning for the operation by raiding a safe house in Marawi where they believed Mr. Hapilon was holed up. That forced the Maute group to take up arms prematurely to help him escape.

“They were not able to fully deploy all their forces,” Gen. Año told reporters.

Military officials said they are trying to determine whether the Maute brothers are among several guerrillas killed in a battle with troops on Saturday. Their parents have been arrested as troops continue trying to clear militants from Marawi.

Mr. Duterte has already declared martial law in the area. “I did not expect it to be that bad,” he said.

Philippine soldiers patrol a deserted street in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday.

Philippine soldiers patrol a deserted street in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday. PHOTO:NOEL CELIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Write to James Hookway at




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2 Responses to “Islamic State Sinks Its Teeth Into the Philippines”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

  2. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

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