Local and foreign terrorist groups operating in the country have started using Islamic schools or “madrasa” and social media to entice the youth to join them and push their cause and ideologies.
General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said that the military has taken steps to counter the rise of suicide bombings and the changing nature of terrorism in the country.
“The madrasas and other schools in Sulu, we are monitoring them really where we suspected that there is some sort of radicalization activities going on,” Gapay said.
What’s more alarming, according to Gapay, is that terrorist groups have also utilized the power of the Internet and social media to recruit young fighters.
“One of the media or vehicles they are using is the social media. We have found out from some of those who surrendered and captured that quite a number of them have been recruited and radicalized through social media,” he said.
Gapay believes this is the reason why suicide bombing involving Filipino terrorists have become the new “trend” of terrorism in the Philippine setting.
In the past two years, at least five suicide bombing incidents have been recorded by the military.
A bombing incident in June, 2019, involving the first identified Filipino suicide bomber, Norman Lasuca, seemed to have set a dangerous precedent in the nature of terrorism in the country, the AFP Chief said.
“We cannot imagine a Filipino really being recruited or being used as a suicide bomber. Usually, we expect that that suicide bombers would be foreign terrorists that have slipped here in our country but we were really surprised when we had that first incident in 2019 in the person of Mr. Lasuca,” Gapay said.
“It was really an eye opener for us that the effort to recruit, to radicalize, and even mold the suicide bomber out of Filipinos is really at that level,” he added.
The most recent suicide bombing incident occured last August 24, 2020 at a plaza in Jolo, Sulu which claimed the lives of 17 people and wounded 74 others, including two suicide bombers.
An Indonesian terrorist who allegedly committed herself to do a suicide bombing mission in Zamboanga City has been arrested by the authorities in Sulu last week.
The suicide bomber allegedly wanted to avenge the death of her husband, an Indonesian terrorist linked with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who was killed in an armed encounter with the military.
To address the evolving nature of terrorism, the military coordinated with the Department of Education (DepEd) and concerned local government units (LGUs) to monitor the madrasas in Mindanao where students are believed to be radicalized, Gapay said.
“As part of our response, we are now strengthening and enhancing our program as far as preventing and countering violent extremism [is concerned]. We are looking now, coordinating with DepEd to look into different schools, particularly in Sulu and other parts of Mindanao. It is in one of these institutions or areas where recruitment is occurring particularly [among] the youth,” he said.
Terrorism, Gapay noted, is a global concern that should be addressed through the cooperation of various nations. But he said that the fight must begin at the grassroot level.
“We have this comprehensive anti-terrorism program of the government wherein all agencies are involved. You know, the military side will come in after, it’s on the reactive [side] already, when terrorists are identified and due for neutralization. But the larger part of the effort will be for the preventive side of it,” Gapay said.
“[It includes] preventing the youth and some people to get recruited, preventing foreign terrorists from slipping into our country, preventing other local terrorists from slipping out of the country and getting deployed to Syria or Afghanistan, and then looking into some madrasas and schools where terrorists also use these facilities to recruit and radicalize,” he added.
“Terrorism, it’s a global threat and it would need really the cooperation among nations. That’s why intelligence information sharing with other countries is being done, not only by the armed forces but by our government so it’s a comprehensive approach when it comes to combatting terrorism,” he said.