MANILA, Philippines — The Islamic State eyed the Philippines as a base for operations after failing to gain a foothold in Indonesia, a Singaporean security affairs analyst said.
The terror group’s expansion began in 2014 when it decided to go expand beyond the Middle East, setting its sights on Africa, the Caucasus and Asia, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna said in a Skype interview during PTV-4’s Countering Violent Extremism Forum Friday.
“The Philippines was selected because they could not establish a caliphate in Indonesia,” Gunaratna said, adding that Islamic State also found local terrorist groups willing to support its extremist cause.
Among these were Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon’s group in Basilan, Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan’s band in Sulu, the Ansar Khalifa Philippines in the Soccsksargen region, the Maute group in Lanao del Sur, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
With these new alliances, Gunaratna said, the terror network saw an opportunity to create a new threat landscape in the southern Philippines.
When asked why the Maute group, now locked in battle with government forces in Marawi City, decided to follow Wahhabism, the Singaporean security analyst said this is because its founders, Omar and Abdullah, both studied in the Middle East and brought home the ideology.
Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative form of Islam that justifies punishments for those who do not follow its teachings.
To counter this, Gunaratna said the Philippines should maintain its local tradition of Islam, one that espouses tolerance and peace and has existed in the country for centuries.