SINGAPORE — As the siege of Marawi by ISIS-linked Philippine militants drags on, fears mount over the global terrorist group gaining a Southeast Asian stronghold.
The Philippines has become the epicenter of ISIS expansion into Southeast Asia, a region where over 60 groups have pledged allegiance to the extremist group, according to the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.
While ISIS has lost ground in Syria and Iraq, the group has been clear about its intentions to turn to Southeast Asia as one of their major sites for operations, drawing recruits from the Philippines and the Muslim-majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Historically, Al Qaeda has had links to extremist groups in Southeast Asia, but ISIS has been connected to a number of more recent attacks, such as a suicide bombing that killed three police offers at a bus station in Jakarta in May and a bombing in the Philippine city of Davao in September last year that killed 14.
The Philippines has become a destination for militants from around the region, analysts say, especially after a video released by ISIS in June 2016 advised potential recruits to head for Mindanao — the southern Philippine island where Marawi is located — if they couldn’t make it to Syria or Iraq.
Dozens of foreigners have been fighting alongside the Filipino militants in Marawi, with several Malaysians and Indonesians as well as a Chechen, Yemeni and Saudi among those reported killed.