On 24th May, 2017 a large number of heavily armed militants attacked the city of Marawi in Philippines southern region of Mindanao and took control over parts of the city. As of 13th July army operations to regain control over the city and oust the militants were still underway. Several hundred people have been killed in the fighting and casualty figures are expected to increase as the toll on civilians in the area becomes clear. As the first reports of the assault on Marawi appeared GWS-Safeture sent out a high-level alert and has since issued regular updates on ongoing security operations in the area.
With the assault on Marawi the issue of Islamist militancy in the south of the Philippines has come into the media spotlight. The events track their roots back through decades of insurgency in the region. Through our alert database GWS possesses a rich material that can help us study and map insurgent and militant activity in the region.
A preliminary study of this material concerning incidents that have occurred during 2015 and 2016 indicates that there has been on average 4-8 incidents per month that can be linked to Islamist militant activity. Geographically the vast majority of incidents have occurred in the western districts of Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago region.
The nature of these incidents varies but a few common tactics used by the militants that can be discerned are attacks targeting government officials, kidnapping and piracy. Attacks on officials have often manifested in hit-and-run assassinations using firearms and hand grenades. People targeted have included local mayors and police chiefs. Pirate attacks in the waters west of Mindanao and kidnappings have occurred regularly and have targeted both commercial transport and tourist vessels. A number of people taken in these attacks have since been executed while some have been released for ransom. The main reason for the strategy is thought to be financial as it constitutes a main source of income for the militants. Our preliminary study also shows that many incidents occur as a result of confrontations between security forces and militants.
Previous events have been limited in scope and the attack on Marawi constitutes a major change in strategy. Considering that the groups involved have sworn allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) it is thought that the attack and attempt to actively seize control of the area may have been spurred on by ISIS territorial losses during the last 1,5 years. A more in-depth study concerning the Islamist militant factions and their activities in southern Philippines during the last few years will be conducted in the near future.