New form of violent extremism noted in Sulu

DAVAO CITY - An independent peace building organization noted that violent extremism in the island province of Sulu has taken on “a new form" since 2019.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) desecrated a Catholic Chapel following an attack in a  remote village in Pigcawayan,North Cotabato. (Manila Bulletin / File / Keith Bacongco)

The Conflict Alert 2020 report bared that suicide bombings perpetrated by female, Filipino, and foreign extremists were now being recorded in Sulu.

"Wracked by suicide bombings, with reports of continued recruitment and radicalization among youth and women, Sulu is on course towards reclaiming its notorious identification with terrorism," the Conflict Alert 2020 report titled Enduring Wars, noted.

Conflict Alert is a subnational conflict monitoring system developed and run by the Philippines Programme of International Alert.

The report revealed that suicide bombings carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group  (ASG) in Jolo in January, and in Indanan in June and September in 2019 resulted in 21 and 11 deaths, respectively. 

The Conflict Alert report noted that these figures were 90 percent and 72 percent of deaths attributed to violent extremism in these towns. 

Two more successive bombing attacks in Jolo were recorded on August 24, 2020, killing 14 civilians, policemen, and soldiers, and wounding 75 individuals.

“The suicide attacks reveal how the influence of ISIS has remained potent and that the attacks in August 2020 are not expected to be the last. There is a potential for suicide bombings to be reproduced in other parts of Mindanao, especially as security is tightened in Sulu,” said International Alert Senior Peace and Conflict Adviser Francisco Lara.

The Conflict Alert report also showed that violent extremism events dropped 26% to 195 in 2019 from 2018 with fewer incidents involving the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan and the BIFF in Maguindanao. 

However, the report added that the rate of decline in the incidence of violent extremism and the resulting deaths was lowest in Sulu at 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively, because of the suicide bombings.

Meanwhile, the report added that incidents involving the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur were steady at 21 in 2019. 

Lara also said  that there were reports on the continued recruitment and regrouping of ISIS-affiliated armed groups in Lanao del Sur. He said new members to the BIFF are being lured with the offer of financial incentives.