ISIS making massive gains in the Philippines, slaughtering the Catholic minority in the south and destabilizing the region
Jihadists fighting in the name of the Islamic State group (ISIS or IS) are escalating attacks in the southern Philippines, analysts said, deepening fears for the volatile region after its main Muslim rebel group failed to seal a peace pact.
Gunmen who have pledged allegiance to the jihadists controlling vast swathes of Iraq and Syria have instigated a series of deadly battles with the army since the nation’s parliament blocked the peace push last month.
An assassination attempt this week on a visiting Saudi Arabian preacher who was on an IS hit list has raised the alarm further, although police emphasized they were yet to determine the gunman’s motives.
“Their influence is growing stronger and it is expanding,” Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research told AFP, referring to IS.
He said the various local groups that had pledged allegiance to IS were “planning big operations, like bombings, attacks or assassinations”.
Such violence has plagued large areas of the southern Philippines for decades, as Muslim rebels have fought a separatist insurgency that has claimed 120,000 lives.
The violence has left the region one of the poorest in the Philippines, while allowing warlords and extortion gangs to flourish. Many of the predominantly Catholic Philippines’ Muslim minority live in the south.
The biggest rebel group, the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had been working hard with President Benigno Aquino’s administration for nearly six years to broker an end to the rebellion.
But when congress failed to pass a bill last month that would have granted autonomy to the region, the peace process was frozen.
The MILF has pledged to honor a ceasefire while it waits for Aquino’s successor to be elected mid-year.
But hardline groups opposed to compromise with the government have started to take advantage of the vacuum, as they sense an opportunity to raise their profile and prove their credentials to IS, according to analysts.
“There is an incentive if they show that they are a fighting force,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, who specializes in Southeast Asian security issues, told AFP.
Growing ISIS shadow
In the most spectacular attack, a previously obscure group discounted by the military as a small-time extortion gang
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