IS ‘formidable threat’ to PH calls for tighter collaboration, says expert
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should collaborate with its neighbors in the region in order to counter a new wave of Islamist extremism in the war-torn southern part of the country, a terrorism expert said Thursday.
The deadly twin explosions at a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu on Sunday left 21 killed and at least a hundred wounded. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is looking at the Abu Sayyaf, a small group of militants known for its beheadings, kidnappings and bombings, as primary suspects.
The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was carried out by suicide bombers. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana did not dismiss this possibility.
Local armed groups linked with the IS and a few dozen foreign fighters occupied Marawi City for five months in 2017 as they tried to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia. It was the biggest security crisis of the Philippines in recent years.
“IS presents a formidable threat to the Philippines and the region. IS has declared a wilayat or a province of the caliphate and the governments in the region and beyond should work with the Philippines to deny the IS nucleus in the Philippines from expanding and threatening the region and beyond,” Singapore-based terrorism expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratna told INQUIRER.net in an e-mail.
He said Sunday’s bombing was indeed a suicide attack carried out by the IS.
“It is very likely that the attack was staged by foreign fighters working with IS Sulu faction led by Hatib Sawadjan. It is too early to determine the nationality of the bombers,” Gunaratna said.
If Gunaratna is right, this would make the second known case of suicide bombing in the Philippines. The first reported incident was in July 2018 in Lamitan, Basilan, which is believed to have been carried out by a Moroccan.
“The Philippines should take preventive and preemptive measures to contain, isolate and eliminate IS from taking root on Philippines soil,” Gunaratna said.
The Jolo attack happened days after majority of Muslim Mindanao overwhelmingly voted in support of greater autonomy through the creation of a new Bangsamoro region, but it was rejected in the island province of Sulu.
“By working together, the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has contributed to the stability and security of the Philippines,” Gunaratna said.
Mindanaoans have pinned their high hopes on the Bangsamoro Organic Law, a deal between the government and the MILF, to end decades-long struggle for peace in southern Philippines.
“The creation of a Bangsamoro entity will certainly reduce support for extremism and political violence. However, a tiny minority of Muslims influenced by the ideology of the Islamic State will continue to support and join the IS centric groups in the belief that they are fighting to create an Islamic State,” he added. /kga