The southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf terror group has publicly pledged to establish an Islamic caliphate across Southeast Asia, similar to the ISIS stronghold in Iraq and Syria.
The violent insurgents, well known for beheadings, bombings, and also taking foreign hostages, have been an enemy of the state for 25 years. However, violence has seen a substantial uptick of late, with the most recent incident being the beheading of two Canadians that were kidnapped from a Filipino resort in June.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte responded directly to the terrorists by ordering the army in mid-August to ‘destroy them’ or risk ISIS ‘disease’. Military successes in the ensuing weeks led many to believe the government was finally making progress.
On 23 August, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu announced that a deployment of about 10,000 Filipino military personnel had successfully weakened Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold in Basilan province. Basilan is long known to be an Abu Sayyaf headquarters located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Just two days later, is was revealed that Abu Sayyaf’s bomb expert, Mussana Jamiri, died while fleeing government forces in Basilan when the bomb he was carrying accidentally exploded. Jamiri was the first cousin of Abu Sayyaf Group leader Nurhassan Jamiri.
These two events combined showed definitive progress following Duterte’s statements, and momentarily helped alleviate mounting fears that the terror group’s rapid expansion was continuing unabated.
Then on 2 September, an improvised explosive tore through a crowded night market in Davao, President Rodrigo Duterte’s home city. The blast killed at least 14 people and injured dozens over 70 more. The president was in Davao at the time of the attack along with his daughter, the Davao City Mayor, but not at the market. Authorities said the attack on Davao was likely carried out in response to the military offensive Duterte had launched against it in August.
Last month, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak raised his “grave concern” over the security situation in Southeast Asia amid the heightened terrorist activities. After negotiating the release of 10 hostages held by Abu Sayyaf in May, the Indonesian President Joko Widodo similarly stated that, “we can’t let this continue”.
Since then Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed on joint maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea. However, countries in the Asia-Pacific are going to need much higher levels of cooperation though if they are to make serious headway against the violence currently plaguing the region.