Mindanao Martial Law can’t fight terror — experts

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By Vince Angelo C. Ferreras

MARTIAL RULE in Mindanao has failed to quell the growth of terror cells linked to Islamic State, even if it has effectively curbed traditional armed groups seeking a separate Muslim state, according to analysts and security experts.

“Intelligence-gathering and tracking the movements of terror cells in Mindanao is beyond the scope of Martial Law,” Ateneo Policy Center research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Martial Law in Mindanao has only allowed the Armed Forces to monitor the movements of traditional armed groups.”

The government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte should particularly look out for more lone-wolf terrorist attacks similar to what happened in Sulu province in southern Philippines early this month, when 8 people died and 12 more were injured, Yusingco said. The military has confirmed that one of the suspects in the attacks was the first Filipino suicide bomber.

The SITE Intelligence Group, a US-based nongovernment organization that monitors terrorist movements, said the IS had claimed responsibility for the blasts, marking its 17th attack in the country for this year.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week cited the need to boost police and military capabilities against terrorism, saying he senses “very dangerous times ahead.” He said his hands sweat just thinking of the potential for violence to spill out of Sulu and the Basilan islands in the Mindanao region.

“The key is updated intelligence, and training,” security analyst and former Federal Bureau of Investigation officer Stephen P. Cutler said in a separate email. “Police and military check-point personnel must be trained on a continuing basis and tested with regular realistic exercises,” he added.

Law enforcers must be able to identify tell-tale signs such as suspicious behavior and inappropriate clothing used to conceal bombs, Mr. Cutler said.

“The threat of violent extremism in Mindanao is real and cannot be ignored,” Yusingco said. “Ensuring the proper rehabilitation of Marawi City is the most obvious and immediate way to suppress the recruitment of vulnerable citizens in Muslim Mindanao,” he added.

The more long-term solution is to ensure the success of the new autonomous region that has been given more powers and a bigger share of wealth, Yusingco said.

On May 23, 2017, Mr. Duterte placed the Mindanao region under martial law amid clashes between government troops and terrorist groups in Marawi City. It has since been extended several times until year-end.

The military has said the Abu Sayyaf group, an Islamic State-linked terrorist organization, could be behind the recent blasts.

The Abu Sayyaf is the most violent of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the Mindanao region and has used terror both for profit and to promote its jihadist agenda, according to the US National Counterterrorism Center.

The group engages in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations and extortion.