President claims terrorist threat has weakened . . .
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced yesterday that he will not extend martial law in the southern island of Mindanao beyond its expiration on December 31. Martial law was first declared on May 23, 2017 in response to the Maute terrorist group’s attack on Marawi City and has since been extended three times. Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in lieu of martial law, a tougher anti-terrorism law will be implemented to aid law enforcement in the troubled region.
Island rocked by ISIS-linked violence . . .
The initial attacks in Marawi turned into a five-month-long armed conflict between Philippine forces and ISIS-affiliated militant groups, including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf. While the conflict officially ended in October 2017, Congress continued to authorize martial law citing ongoing security concerns. Duterte also declared a nationwide “state of lawlessness” in September 2016, following a suspected terrorist attack in Davao City where a night market bombing killed 14 people. There have also been more recent attacks, including a cathedral bombing in January in the province of Sulu carried out by an Indonesian couple with ISIS claiming responsibility.
Southeast Asia governments holding their breath . . .
Although Duterte may be proclaiming victory over the Islamic State with the abandonment of martial law in Mindanao, analysts say it has not deterred the regrouping of militants or the flow of ISIS resources into the Philippines. The attacks in Mindanao point to a larger threat of ISIS insurgencies in Southeast Asia, locally organized but internationally supported by the Islamic State. Last year, for example, Indonesia was hit with co-ordinated church bombings in the city of Surabaya. And many from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia left to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with Southeast Asian governments nervously facing the possibility that they will return home.