Battle-hardened Southeast Asian Islamic State fighters fleeing the Middle East are planning to regroup in the southern Philippines, a security conference was told today (Tuesday, April 4).
Instability and the easy flow of weapons have made south-west Mindanao and nearby Philippine islands attractive to extremist groups, said speakers at the Milipol conference on homeland security in Singapore.
Counter-terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said: “Currently, IS is moving towards creating a territory in the southern Philippines.
“The most recent communication issued by IS has announced that they have formally declared an East Asia division of IS in the southern Philippines
“Our forecast for 2017 is that the threat in this region will grow because of the creation of an IS nucleus in the southern Philippines.
“The instability in the southern Philippines and the availability of weapons, internal displacement, refugee flows, etc, create the ripe conditions for foreign terrorists to come.”
Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam also told the conference that the southern Philippines “is becoming an area that is difficult to control despite the best efforts of the Philippine government”.
“So that is an area that can serve as a sanctuary for returning fighters from the Middle East. It can be a place where would-be terrorists can go. They can train, arms seem to move fairly easily into that area.”
It is believed that hundreds of Southeast Asian Islamic radicals from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere have travelled to the Middle East to wage jihad.
But as coalition forces close in on their final strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa, many of these are returning home.
They are certain to find a warm welcome with domestic Islamist groups such as Abu Sayyaf.