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Philippines claims major success in continuing battle with Islamic fundamentalists

Jefferson Galt

At the heart of Islamic fundamentalism across South East Asia is the desire to set up a so-called Caliphate taking in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and the Southern Philippines. In the Southern Philippines, there are a number of Islamic Fundamentalist groups who have taken to extreme violence and terrorism. The largest is Abu Sayyaf with which there is, supposedly, a peace deal, of sorts, in place. But the Abu Sayyaf leadership has splintered...

The splinter groups have taken violence to new heights in recent months, taking over entire towns and adopting tactics of widespread kidnapping both inside the province of Mindanao and outside, including it is said, across the sea in Malaysia.

Today, an announcement from Marawi, the town the rebels have taken over, shows the bodies (or parts of bodies) that the authorities say are Isnilon Hapilon and his confederate, Omar Maute. Together with Maute's brother, they ran the Maute splinter group, rejecting the already fragile peace deal.

Abu Sayyaf has itself splintered: parts continue to use kidnap and ransom as money generating tactics: they are quite willing to savagely murder hostages and return dismembered corpses to sustain the terror they create. Others have reduced their violence, saying that they intend to adopt political means to impose fundamentalist religious laws in Mindanao, creating first a local caliphate and then expanding it across the region. They have strong allies in the Indonesian state of Aceh which has, by means of terrorism and peaceful negotiation after the 2005 tsunami devastated much of their region, been allowed a degree of autonomy that has led to increasingly strict interpretations of Islam and severe punishments for failure to follow fundamentalist demands.

But Isnilon Hapilon was in a league of his own: his "teachings" obtained a following amongst those with a fundamentalist leaning across South East Asia and he pledged his allegiance to Da'esh / ISIS some three years ago. He has tried to create an informal regional grouping of fundamentalist leaders with the objective of harmonising extreme views and policies. The USA placed a bounty of USD5 million on his head but even that did not result in his followers giving him up: it has taken the Philippines authorities several years to track him down.

Meanwhile, Marawi has, in large part, been reduced to rubble as heavily armed Islamic fundamentalists have taken refuge in all manner of buildings. While the media has been focussed on the Middle East, in Marawi a sustained land and air offensive has been raging for several months. It is said that there remain about 20 hostages unaccounted for.


Jefferson Galt's novel, The Mission tells the story of an American hostage held by a Philippines rebel group in the Southern Philippines.