Southeast Asian Islamic State fighters who are returning from the Middle East following the group’s setbacks are expected to rebase in the southern Philippines, experts said at a security conference.
Instability and the easy flow of weapons have made Mindanao and nearby Philippine islands attractive to extremist groups, Agence France-Presse reports, citing speakers at the Milipol conference on homeland security in Singapore on Tuesday.
“Currently, [Islamic State] is moving towards creating a territory in southern Philippines. The most recent communication issued by IS has announced that they have formally declared an East Asia division of IS in the southern Philippines,” counter-terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told the conference.
“Our forecast for 2017 is that the threat in this region will grow because of the creation of an IS nucleus in the southern Philippines,” Gunaratna added.
“The instability in the southern Philippines and the availability of weapons, internal displacement, refugee flows … create the ripe conditions for foreign terrorists to come,” he told AFP after his speech.
Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam also told the conference that the southern Philippines “is becoming an area that is difficult to control despite the best efforts of the Philippine government”.
“So that is an area that can serve as a sanctuary for returning fighters from the Middle East. It can be a place where would-be terrorists can go … they can train, arms seem to move fairly easily into that area,” Shanmugam added.
Parts of Southeast Asia have long struggled with Islamic militancy. Hundreds of radicals from the region, including from Indonesia and Malaysia, have flocked to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the report said.
But as IS suffers battlefield setbacks, officials and analysts fear these fighters would return to their home region.
Southeast Asia suffered its first Islamic State-linked attack in January last year when extremists launched a deadly suicide bombing and gun attack in Jakarta.
In Mindanao, which has long battled a Muslim insurgency, several groups have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
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