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More suicide attacks in Philippines driven by ISIS influence

This article is more than 12 months old

MANILA A number of apparent suicide bombings in the Philippines over the past 12 months are a worrying escalation of militancy driven by the influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in South-east Asia, security experts said.

A decades-old Islamist insurgency in the southern Philippines has killed tens of thousands. But suicide attacks have been used extremely rarely, with foreign fighters blamed for the few that have been carried out.

The authorities now fear, however, the most recent suspected suicide attack, which struck a military base on Friday last week on the southern island of Jolo, killing at least five people, may have been the work of a Filipino.

It was the third suspected suicide attack since July last year.

"The change did not come with (Friday's) bombing, it came with the introduction of a lethal new ideology into the Philippines," said security analyst Sidney Jones.

"The game changer" was ISIS.

As its "caliphate" crumbled in the Middle East, ISIS has stepped up its strategy of absorbing existing insurgent groups around the world and claiming their attacks.

Suicide attacks indicate a higher level of commitment to the militant cause, experts said, and are often approved by the central leadership of ISIS.

The group has taken credit for Friday's blasts, as well as the deaths of over 30 people, killed in two previous attacks believed to be the work of suicide bombers.

"It is an escalation, but it is also a sign of increased radicalisation," said Dr Zachary Abuza, South-east Asian security expert at the National War College in Washington.

The Philippines is a key piece of territory because it is one of the few places in the region where ISIS can hold ground, like its affiliates did for five months in Marawi.

The rash of suicide bombings and new ISIS propaganda videos suggest the pull of the militant group in the Philippines "remains strong", Ms Jones said.

The army suspects a 23-year-old Filipino carried out the latest attack and is investigating whether it was a suicide bomb or remote detonation gone wrong.

There are strong motivations from local militant cells to try to catch the eye of the ISIS central leadership with suicide attacks. Several figures are vying to be the designated leader in the region, with top candidates coming from the ISIS-aligned Abu Sayyaf network.- AFP