Trends in the Expansion of the Terrorist Threat in the Philippines

 
 

 Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines, which has been dealing with guerilla and terrorist organizations on ethnic, religious and Islamic grounds for decades; A significant change in this regard occurred in 2014, when some of these organizations served as the platform for the establishment of the infrastructure of the Islamic State (known as Daesh), reflecting the evolution of the Global Jihad threat in the area.

It should be noted that the establishment of a de facto presence around the world is a central component of the Islamic State strategy. This presence is established, inter alia, with various organizations pledging their allegiance and establishing chapters in areas with a sympathetic population base suffering from governance challenges (such as Northern Sinai, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern Nigeria).

At the same time, the leadership of the Islamic State has so far refrained from formally declaring regions in the Philippines (or Southeast Asia) as divisions. However, since the beginning of 2017, Islamic State supporters have been highly active, especially in the south of the country, where a rise in the number of combatants and attacks has been observed, culminating in the attack in the southern city of Marawi, during which parts of the city were taken over by terrorists. In addition, a departure from the established area of activity in the south has been observed, with activists moving north (terrorist attacks on May 17, 2017, in Manila and April 17, 2017, in Bohol). Alongside the rise in Islamic State supporters' activity in the Philippines, there has also been an increase in investments in the area by the Islamic State leadership.

Supporters of the Islamic State in the Philippines are not yet consolidated under a unified and formal organizational structure, but are in fact in the process of establishing such structure. It appears that each of the main groups has a different agenda, with the Salafi ideology constituting, to one degree or another, a common denominator between them. It is currently unclear how committed the various groups are to the Islamic State, and whether they will be successful in creating an umbrella framework for all Islamic State supporters in the region.

In the Israeli context, most Islamic terrorist organizations' activities in the southern Philippines until a few years ago targeted security forces, and the struggle was mainly ethnic. It should be noted that, alongside recent developments but unrelated to them,  ransom kidnappings of tourists in the region by terrorist organizations have been carried out in the area. With the rise of support for the Islamic State in recent years and the adoption of its ideology (with greater importance attached to religion over nationality/ethnicity), there is concern that Western tourists will be increasingly targeted, as will destinations outside the traditional activities of Islamic terrorist organizations in the Southern Philippines.

It should be noted that there is a level 1 travel alert designated as a very high concrete threat for the Southern Philippines area.

Following is a list of organizations and the date on which some of their members/affiliated organizations pledged their loyalty/support to the Caliph of the Islamic State, al-Baghdadi:

 

OrganizationDate of loyalty/support pledge
Ansar al-Khilafah in the PhilippinesApril 2014
Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom FightersAugust 2014
MauteApril 2015
Ma'rakat al-Ansar in SuluMay 2015
Islamic movement in Basilan (several  affiliated groups of the organization)January 2016
Katibat Jund al-Tawhid (part of Abu Sayyaf)March 2016
Ex-M.I.L.F in RanaoApril 2016

 

Picture: Marawi, June 15, 2017, a building attacked by the Philippine Air Force as part of the fight against forces identified with the Islamic State in the city.

 

Picture: Marawi, June 15, 2017, a building attacked by the Philippine Air Force as part of the fight against forces identified with the Islamic State in the city.

Photographer: Mark Jhomel