But the report suggests that Islamic State commanders in Syria took the Maute Group’s strategic ambitions seriously.
The Islamic State’s ability to support its Philippine offshoots appears limited mainly to periodic Western Union transfers of tens of thousands of dollars, the report found, suggesting that direct support from Syria was a relatively minor factor in the Maute Group’s ability to seize Marawi.
The report argues that local recruiting and fund-raising among pious Muslims who resented the Philippines’ central government have probably played a more significant role in the insurgents’ successes.
The institute’s research is based on field visits this year to Mindanao, the island where Marawi sits, interviews with people close to Indonesian militants in the Philippines, and militants’ messages obtained from Telegram, the highly encrypted messaging service used by the Islamic State. Last week the Indonesian government announced it would ban some features of Telegram, because of how useful the app has been for terrorists.
Intercepted chats show that the Islamic State has a sophisticated command structure in Southeast Asia, allowing for complex coordination among its supporters across the region.
In one instance from last year, two Indonesian militants were connected via a Malaysian contact to another militant based in Thailand who helped them support a prison break in that country. The goal was to free a group of Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnic group from western China, who had been detained there.
Though the prison break was initially successful, the Uighurs were eventually recaptured by the Thai police. Still, the report notes, “The story illustrates how well-connected the ISIS network has become, with an Indonesian connecting as easily with contacts in Turkey, the Philippines and Thailand as with his own friends in prison.”
International coordination of Islamic State leaders with Southeast Asian militants may amplify the terrorism threat to neighboring Indonesia, the report said.
The last 18 months have produced a steady trickle of low-casualty Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks in Indonesia, but until now the actions have tended to be poorly planned and executed. For example, two Indonesian suicide bombers struck in the Kampung Melayu neighborhood in East Jakarta in May, but only three victims were killed.
A major concern for the Indonesian government is that some of the 20-odd Indonesian fighters who have joined up with Islamic State groups in Mindanao will acquire the equipment and expertise to commit serious terrorist attacks at home.
The report calls for Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to improve their security services’ coordination and intelligence sharing, so that the names of key suspects are passed along.
Still, the first step is ousting the Islamic State from Marawi.
When Marawi was seized in late May, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines pledged that the militants would be defeated quickly. But groups aligned with the Islamic State continue to maintain their grip on sections of the city, and it now appears unlikely that Marawi will be fully liberated when Mr. Duterte delivers his annual address to the nation on Monday.
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