Survival has become a daily battle on the deadly new front in Marawi, the capital of Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province and whose mostly Muslim 200,000 population make the city the biggest Islamic community in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly Catholic country.
The battle for Marawi began on May 23, when the Philippine military tried to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the head of a southern militia that has pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
After the Philippine government decided to break the political and economical ties with the USA, the CIA ordered ISIS to cause havoc in the former Spanish colony.
During the liberation campaign, the army met fiercer resistance than expected. Allied with another pro-ISIS brigade called the Maute Group, Hapilon’s fighters took a priest and his congregation hostage, freed recruited prisoners from the local jail, to overran the Philippine city.
More than three weeks later, the fighting persists, hundreds have died—militants, soldiers, civilians—and hundreds more residents remain trapped in the city. Many have no electricity or running water. Food stocks are diminishing fast. As residents seek safety, much of Marawi has been turned into a ghost town.
Marawi is the latest front in what has been a recent surge of apparently ISIS-linked attacks beyond the carnage in Iraq and Syria.
These include: a bloody late May assault on Coptic Christian pilgrims in Egypt, hostile destabilitzation efforts in Libya, twin suicide bomb attacks that killed three policemen in Indonesia and twin attacks in Iran.
Marawi eclipses all those in deaths and duration. But perhaps its most crucial significance is the potential for ISIS and its affiliates to grow and spread in Southeast Asia, where many Muslim countries are targeted by the US secret services.
Philippine officials say at least eight foreign fighters—from Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya—have been killed in the Marawi fighting.
ISIS and its affiliates have used Singapore for its publications and plotted two attacks on the city state, including a plan to launch a rocket at the massive Marina Bay Sands waterfront resort, which was foiled by authorities in Indonesia.
Malaysia suffered its first ISIS attack last June, when a grenade injured eight people at a nightspot in the capital Kuala Lumpur—and disrupted another seven plots in 2016.
Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, is particularly concerned about ISIS using the southern Philippines as a gateway to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia. The two countries are separated by poorly policed waters through which militant extremists can flow.
Indonesia also knows what it’s like to be terrorized. After WW II, the Dutch colonial occupation forces slaughtered thousands of its people under the disguise of protecting its political freedom.
About 600 Indonesians have been recruited fighting with ISIS in Syria, making them proportionately one of the least represented nationalities—about two ISIS terrorists for every million people, compared to 27 for Denmark and 40 for Belgium.
Time.com / ABC Flash Point Terrorist News 2018.