On May 23rd, fighters from the Maute group, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), took over the predominantly Muslim Malawi City in Mindanao, Philippines. The current occupation and conflict between the Islamist militants and government troops has continued for almost three weeks. The Filipino military has reported that the besiegement has caused 138 militant, 40 security personnel and 20 civilian deaths. The violence has caused the majority of the city’s population to flee but the Filipino military estimates that approximately 100 people are being held hostage by the Maute group. The militants are using some civilians as human shields against the military’s attacks. The military believes the militants to be on their last legs in their besiegement of the city, stating that they had disrupted their logistics and some of their fighters have fled. They plan to have the siege ended by this Monday, the 12th of June, which is the Philippines’ Independence Day. “The chief of staff made an announcement, hoping, that by Monday we can freely wave our flags in every corner of Marawi and we are working feverishly to do that,” said Filipino military spokesman Restituto Padilla.
Filipino Officials stated that four IS aligned groups in the Philippines sent fighters to Marawi City and have the ultimate goal of establishing the city as a governorate or “wilyat” for the IS. Filipino officials have reported that 40 of the militants involved in the city’s besiegement were from India and Malaysia and that fighters were also from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Chechnya. This is a serious concern for the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region overall. Neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concern over the situation in Mindanao. “If we do nothing, they get a foothold in this region,” said Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
The Mindanao region has had a Muslim Separatist movement since the seventies. Last year, the Maute group joined with Isnilon Hapilon, another Islamist group which was named the Southeast Asian “emir” of IS. The presence and spreading of IS into the Southeast Asia is alarming not just for the region but for the world. The army may be able to “stamp out” this current besiegement over the next few days, but that does not solve the issue. More focus needs to put on the factors that are leading to these violent conflicts. What makes joining an Islamist militant group appealing? How do we resolve their grievances towards the government, poverty, or any other factors that lead up to this decision? The Filipino government should put their focus on these aspects to curb any further violence.
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