Extremists harnessing social media after Marawi defeat: expert

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 23 2018 09:28 AM | Updated as of May 23 2018 10:25 AM

The masjid Maduwah's Minarette and dome has crumbled near Lanao Lake inside the most affected area in Marawi City, Monday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Allies of extremists who stormed Marawi a year ago are recruiting new fighters through social media, as they harbor plans to mount a repeat of the 5-month siege of the southern city that left over a thousand dead, an expert said Wednesday.

Remnants of the Dawlah Islamiya, a Lanao-based group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, are recruiting new members from as far as Visayas and Luzon primarily through online platforms Facebook and Telegram Messenger, said Prof. Rommel Banlaoi.

"Very innovative sila," Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, told DZMM.

(They are very innovative.)

"We need to outsmart them before they outsmart us," he added.

Banlaoi said Dawlah Islamiya's Abu Dar, who was among the leaders of the Marawi siege, is also striving to unify the country's threat pockets, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Abu Sayyaf Group.

"Dini-demand ng ISIS na magkaroon ng unification lahat ng followers sa Pilipinas, at kung hindi man sila ma-unify as an organization, maging solid ang kanilang network to project one ISIS-Philippines," he said.

(ISIS is demanding a unification of all its followers in the Philippines, or in failing to do so, a solidification of their network to project one ISIS-Philippines.)

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The extremists aim to mount a repeat of the Marawi siege because ISIS is considering the Philippines as an "alternative home base" amid its setbacks in Iraq and Syria, said Banlaoi, citing ground reports.

ISIS sympathizers, however, would need years of planning to replicate the Marawi attack, which took some 3 years in the making, said the professor, who also serves as president of the Center for Intelligence and National Research.

In the meantime, extremists remain strong enough to mount intermittent attacks like bombings, several of which have been foiled by state forces, he said.

The government, he noted, is putting focus on non-military measures to counter extremism like seminars for the youth and strengthening ties with community and local leaders, on top of boosting intelligence gathering.

"Nagpapasalamat tayo na marami tayong napag-aralan sa Marawi siege, pero hindi nangangahulugan ito na magiging kampante na tayo sa sitwasyon dahil patuloy ang banta at ang banta ay seryoso," he said.

(We are thankful that we learned a lot from the Marawi siege, but this does not mean that we should be complacent because the threat continues and it is serious.)