‘Philippines remains destination for foreign terrorist fighters’

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines —With Islamic State affiliates active in the country, the Philippines remained a refuge for foreign terrorist fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia and a potential destination for those fleeing Syria and Iraq, according to the latest annual country report on terrorism of the US Department of State.

The Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 noted that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliates active in the Philippines in 2018 included parts of the Abu Sayyaf, Maute group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). 

The report said groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines attempted to recover from losses sustained in the 2017 Marawi siege, recruiting and training new members and staging attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms, and targeting security forces and civilians. 

“Government counterterrorism operations thwarted these attempts to occupy territory in the Philippines. Overall, terrorist incidents declined compared with 2017,” the report said. 

The report noted that “terrorist attacks against civilians and security forces continued, though at a slower pace than the previous year.” 

ISIS claimed that a German-Moroccan terrorist carried out a July 31 suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in Lamitan, Basilan. The government linked the attack, which killed 10 people, to the Abu Sayyaf. It blamed radical factions of the BIFF, AKP and remnants of the Maute for other terrorist attacks in Western Mindanao. 

The government held the BIFF responsible for IED attacks on civilian targets in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 that collectively killed six people and wounded more than 40. 

The Abu Sayyaf continued terrorist activities in the Sulu archipelago, though defections from the group increased and Philippine media observed that kidnap-for-ransom operations declined.

Since defeating groups affiliated with ISIS at the siege of Marawi in 2017, the Philippine government has closely tracked terrorist groups that continue to operate in some areas, particularly in southern Philippines. 

In 2018, the report said the government further deepened close counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, enhancing military and law enforcement efforts to address the full spectrum of terrorist threats. The Philippine government acknowledged threats from terrorist groups affiliated with ISIS and welcomed assistance from the US and other international partners. In 2018, the Philippines joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front made progress toward political settlement of long-running insurgencies. In July, the Congress passed and President Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (also called the Bangsamoro Basic Law), to implement the previous administration’s peace agreement with the MILF. 

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