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Support for the Islamic State Growing in the Philippines

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Support for the Islamic State (formerly of Iraq and Syria) has spread to south East Asia, where it has found allies in local Jihadist groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Both of these groups are seeking to establish an independent Islamic state in the Muslim region of the Phillipines. They have waged campaigns of kidnapping, bombings and assassinations to achieve their goals, as well as participating extensively in the drug trade. Last week four social workers were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. One has since escaped. Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview over the weekend that Abu Sayyaf remains a threat to national security.

Conflict between Muslim separatists and the central government has been ongoing since 1972, despite a number of attempted peace agreements. The most recent treaty, in March 2014, saw the Moro Islamic Liberation Front give up arms in exchange for the creation of the Autonomous Region of Bangsamoro. However, Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters did not agree to the truce. The group that signed the march agreement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is itself a more radical breakaway faction of a group that signed an earlier truce. In 1976 the Moro National Liberation Front signed a treaty brokered by the Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

There is also a communist guerrilla faction that has not yet agreed to any truce.

Since the announcement of the Islamic Caliphate by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (now styling himself Caliph Ibrahim) on the first day of Ramadan, support for the group amongst international Jihadi groups has been on the rise.

Musa Cerantonio is a 29 year old Jihadist preacher who has gained a large online following. He is a known supporter of the Islamic State, and has acted as a propagandist for them from his native Australia. A few weeks ago he claimed to be on his way to joining the Caliphate in Iraq. However, police caught up with him in the Philippines last week, where he had remained, living with his Filipino girlfriend. He will be deported to Australia and handed over to the authorities.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters claims that it has sent 200 fighters to join the nascent Caliphate in Iraq.

Rodger Shanahan, national security and Middle East expert at the Australian National University said "The security threat from Muslims travelling to fight in the Levant is already with us."

Returning mujahedeen from the Afghan war against the Soviet Union had a foundational influence of South East Asian jihadism in the 1980s. Veterans of that conflict founded Aby Sayyaf, based in Mindanao in the Phillippines and Jemmah Islamiyah, the Indonesian group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings.

Shanahan explained that "the longer term threat will come from the linkages that these fighters establish with disparate groups," he told Al Jazeera. "In the future, we may see the existence of another global jihadist network of people who made connections in Syria and Iraq."

Videos have surfaced online of Islamists in the Philippines pledging loyalty to the Islamic Caliphate and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (now Caliph Ibrahim). This clip shows prisoners pledging their oath of allegience.

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David Harris

David Harris is the editor in chief of Clarion Project.

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