first published on May 28, 2017 by Sean
The Philippines wing of the Islamic State seized the town of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao this past week – Prompting a declaration of Martial law in the city by the government and the Filipino army has initiated operations to retake the occupied city.
Early last week, Islamic State militants seized a number of government buildings and city infrastructure in the provincial capital Marawi. Martial law was declared by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and the Filipino military quickly deployed troops to the area. Several airstrikes were reported in Marawi as forces attempted to reclaim neighborhoods from the militants.
The Islamic State faction responsible for the brazen attack is known as the “Maute Group” and is headed by Isnilon Hapilon. The former Al Qaeda affiliated Abu Sayef Group leader is also known as abu Abdullah al Filipini, and was appointed the head of the Islamic State in the Philippines last year. This is the second attempted seizure of a city on Mindanao – as late last year the city of Butig was seized, resulting in a government operation killing several dozen fighters before retaking the city.
Militants manned checkpoints and openly strolled through areas of the city this week, raising the notorious black Islamic State flags. They also conducted a jailbreak, releasing over 100 prisoners and decapitated a local police chief. The army responded with airstrikes and ground operations, reporting a number of dead militants thus far. The army has also claimed an influx of foreign fighters in Marawi, and has reported Malaysians and Indonesians among the dead militants.
Mindanao, the second largest Philippine island has seen an increase of foreign fighters from other Asian countries recently. Large areas of the island are insurgency-prone and often lawless, providing a local staging ground for Islamists finding travel to Iraq and Syria difficult in recent months. While the Islamic State under the leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has yet to declare an official province, (known as a wilayah) in the Philippines, the capture and occupation of a city may lead to that dangerous scenario.
Filipino military operations are still underway and President Duerte has threatened to declare martial law throughout the entire province to combat the spread of radical Islam and restore order. With the potential for a new IS caliphate in the region possible hanging in the balance, reclaiming Marawi may be one of the most important battles against the Islamic State in Asia.