EDITORIAL — Terrorism in Marawi

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Terrorism in Marawi

It was an easy or soft civilian target: a Catholic mass held in a place of learning. As of last night, four people were dead and 43 others wounded following an explosion that ripped through a gymnasium of the Mindanao State University in Marawi yesterday. President Marcos condemned what he described as a “senseless and most heinous act perpetrated by foreign terrorists” on the MSU.

No further details were provided on the “foreign terrorists” mentioned by the commander-in-chief. But the Armed Forces of the Philippines had previously said Islamic State-inspired terrorists now operated in Mindanao in “small groups” that included IS militants from other parts of Southeast Asia as well as the Middle East.

Yesterday’s bombing took place two days after the military killed 11 members of the IS-linked terrorist group Dawlah Islamiyah in ground and air offensives in Datu Hoffer Ampatuan in Maguindanao del Sur. The military said yesterday that among the 11 killed was the leader of Dawlah Islamiyah. The DI is also linked to the Maute group that laid siege to Marawi City in 2017.

Brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute were killed in the siege, and their parents as well as other relatives who reportedly helped the group were arrested. Their father, Cayamora, died in August 2017 on the way to a hospital where he was being taken by jail personnel after he reportedly suffered breathing difficulties while in detention.

When the Marawi siege finally ended, the biggest concern – despite the deaths of the Maute brothers and their Abu Sayyaf cohort Isnilon Hapilon – was that the terrorists could regroup. Marawi has yet to fully recover from the siege that had clearly taken the government by surprise; it was launched while nearly all of the top security officials were with then president Rodrigo Duterte in Russia. Duterte cut short his trip and declared martial law in Mindanao. The extent of their support within Marawi also apparently surprised the government; it took security forces five months to end the siege.

In June this year, a militant described by the AFP as the IS emir for Southeast Asia was killed in an operation also in Marawi. Faharudin Hadji Satar, also known as Abu Zacharia, was said to be a lieutenant of Isnilon Hapilon, and reportedly took over the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute group in March 2019.

Around the world, Islamist extremists keep rising again after the loss of their leaders and major operational setbacks. This can take a few months, or many years. The attack on a Catholic mass at the MSU shows the persistence of the threat. Security forces cannot let down their guard.

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