A new report has revealed that the Islamic State central command in Syria has been steadily funding militants in the Philippines, helping them seize the city of Marawi, arranging funding and carrying out recruitment.
The report was published by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, and listed examples of how Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) provided assistance for terrorist groups in Southeast Asia.
As one example, it detailed how a top IS figure from Malaysia, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, collaborated with the terrorist group’s command in Syria to receive funding and secure international recruits to ensure Maute militants took control of territory in the Philippines.
Back in June, AFP cited a Philippine armed forces commander as saying that IS had channeled $600,000 through the doctor. The report added that he was also a peacemaker for two key Indonesian terrorist groups, helping them to “temporarily unite despite bitter rivalries.”
The latest document comes after Marawi, in the southern Philippines, fell into the hands of militants from the Maute group for several weeks, after they seized the city in May.
The militants raised the IS flag and announced they had set up a new province of their “caliphate.”
The report, however, suggests that “direct funding” from IS wasn’t the group’s main source of support for the Philippine militants. While IS transferred tens of thousands of dollars via Western Union, it mainly assisted with local recruiters and fundraising in the country, it says.
In the early days of operations, soldiers discovered nearly $1.5 million in cash and checks in a Marawi house, but the home belonged to a well-known lender and it wasn’t clear if the funds were for the militants’ operations.
President Rodrigo Duterte accused the Maute militants of drug dealing to raise money, but did not provide evidence to back up the claim.
As for local recruitment, this reportedly took place during 2016 across university campuses in Mindanao in the Philippines, via Muslim student associations and their alumni at Catholic institutions and at state universities and polytechnic institutes.
“New recruits would take the oath of loyalty [to the terrorist group] and then be asked to open a bank account, the ATM card for which would be given to treasurer of the local cell, who often had several at once in his or her possession,” the report detailed.
The recruits were often from well-off families, and were able “to contribute substantially to the cause.”
Recruitment in the name of IS also allegedly took place at Muslim charities and ‘dakwah’ religious centers, but the institutions were not necessarily aware of it, according to the report.
The 30-page report is based on research from a field trip to Mindanao, the island where the embattled Marawi is located, where interviews were carried out with people close to Indonesian terrorists in the Philippines, as well as intercepted messages from militants on Telegram.
The report noted that the Filipino jihadists have created an international network through Telegram groups, with “their reports from the field translated instantly into English, Tagalog, Arabic, Turkish, German and Indonesian.”
This assistance may increase the terrorist threat to neighboring Indonesia, which has seen numerous IS-inspired attacks in recent years, the research warned. The Indonesian government’s concern is that about 20 Indonesian militants who have reportedly joined IS forces in Mindanao will acquire the equipment and skills to carry out attacks back at home.
The report urges key Southeast Asian countries to step up security and intel sharing, impeded by “the deep-seated political distrust between the Philippines and Malaysia.”
An “up-to-date, integrated watch-list of extremists across the region” is needed, because “as of July 2017, for example, neither the Maute brothers, Dr. Mahmud nor [high-ranking Indonesian militant] Bahrumsyah were on Interpol’s ‘Red Alert’ list of wanted terrorists.”
READ MORE: HomeNews Philippines official proposes Muslim-only ID cards to tackle extremism
The document said, however, that the first step should still be liberating Marawi, as the seizure of territory there has lifted the morale of IS-inspired terrorists across the region.
“The initial photographs from Marawi released over social media as the ISIS assault began – smiling fighters hold guns aloft on trucks – seemed to have the same impact as the iconic ISIS victory photos from Mosul in 2014.
“They generated a shared sense of triumph and strengthened the desire of ISIS supporters in the region to join the battle,” the report said.