Terrorist groups are able to operate and plan attacks with little concern for their own security. The Filipinos have no computerized immigration or tax databases. Further, the intelligence services in Southeast Asia are often overly politicized and engaged in fierce bureaucratic infighting. Even if they are not corrupt, these forces are under-equipped and confronted by well-armed rebels. Also, the importance of tourism on economy resulted in lax immigration procedures and easy access visas.
These few law enforcement constraints provide the perfect circumstances for terrorists to penetrate the islands of the Philippines. Another appealing feature includes the already established links between the region and radical terrorist leaders and groups. The region has financial ties through businesses, banks, and charities with the Al-Qa’ida network.
Al-Qa’ida also has links in Southeast Asia through their Afghanistan connection and their radical teachings that spread throughout madrasas, Islamic schools. The Afghanistan connection refers to training camps in Afghanistan that many militant Islamic Southeast Asians attended. Osama Bin Laden ran the camps; and they were designed for preparation for later Holy wars. Southeast Asians also attended madrasas throughout the Middle East and Asia. When they returned back to their home fronts, they were committed to running jihads at home and recruiting followers. These militant groups return from Afghanistan and the schools ready to establish networks of madrasas as the base for their operations and recruitment.
These terrorists prey on the Islamic peoples’ devotion to their religion. They turn them into militant radicals, if they are not already, and they enhance their fighting abilities, which gives them more reason to continue attacking. All of these characteristics illustrate the “convenience” that the region offers in luring the terrorists. It also helps to explain the rise in Islamic militancy, simply because the opportunity of convenience persists.
The present state of affairs in the southern Philippines suggests that militant Islam will continue to increase in its magnitude. While the combination of grievance and opportunity may explain the emergence of Muslim rebel groups, one must take into consideration the powerful effect that Al-Qa’ida has upon these groups. According to a Congressional Research Service Report, Al-Qa’ida has penetrated the region by establishing local cells, training Southeast Asians in its camps in Afghanistan, and by financing and cooperating with indigenous radical Islamist groups. It’s vital to note that the connection between militant Islamic groups and Al-Qa’ida is very prevalent. The ASG and Al-Qa’ida have exhibited their presence over the last decade. In January 2002, Philippine authorities apprehended an Indonesian suspected of involvement in Al-Qa’ida plots against American targets in Singapore. There have been many other cases in which Al-Qa’ida has been suspected of connections in bombings, deadly attacks, beheadings, etc…with Abu Sayyaf, who carries out the collaborated attacks. Most recently, the Asian Times reported,
A bomb attack on a public market in the southern city of General Santos on Sunday December 12, 2004 killed at least 14 people and wounded 59 others. Police sources say that they are looking into a feud between two families with ties to separatist group MILF as a possible motive. There had been a previous attack on General Santos in 2002, where 14 people were killed in a shopping mall explosion later blamed on Abu Sayyaf and MILF. The entire south has suffered from bloody terrorist attacks and mass kidnappings in recent years that have been blamed on these Muslim extremists.
This definitely portrays the current presence of these militant groups. They continue to wreak havoc in the Philippines, increasing in their severity and numbers. There is an intensified growth in Islamic extremism, partially due to Al-Qa’ida’s penetration into the local groups. Because of the American War on Terror, Afghanistan lost its secure base of terrorist fronts and camps in late 2001. This prompted Al-Qa’ida to move, establishing Southeast Asia as a “Second Front”. Many scholars and analysts now refer to Southeast Asia as the “second front” of terrorism because of the shift in operations after the fall of the Taliban. The terrorist network has expanded immensely throughout Southeast Asia; and the southern Philippines play a specific role in providing a central location for them to conduct operations.
I am in agreement that the southern region of the Philippines will be regarded as the “official” base for most terrorist networks. The region is a breeding ground for future militant operations. Many of the people of the region have come to embrace militant Islam in its practice. Terrorists migrate to the south because of all the conveniences that it offers, namely loose restrictions. They connect with the militant Islamic groups and form greater communities with more radical ideologies. It is my perspective that since militant Islam remains on the rise, it will only reach higher levels of extremism with deadlier consequences for the world. The escalating tensions between the Philippine government and the militant Islamic groups are nowhere near subsiding nor coming to resolutions. I believe that militant Islam, in joining with radical Islamic terrorists in the southern Philippines, will produce a network base so large as never seen before. Al-Qa’ida has been brilliant in its co-option of other groups…Bin Laden tries to ‘align with local militant groups with country-specific grievances to increase his reach and influence’. Al-Qa’ida has succeeded in rooting itself within these militant groups, especially Abu Sayyaf. Not only will the south become the major operational hub as stated by many analysts, but also I believe that terrorism will spread drastically all over the world thanks to such an available flexibility that the south provides. Right now the terrorism focus is on the Middle East. Most people think of the Arab region of the Middle East when they hear of terrorists. This is a classic example of Western thinking. It is precisely this conventional thinking that led to the United States’ surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. They didn’t think that the Japanese would ever do such a thing; and it is precisely this mentality that I think will surprise many when the next major terrorist attack to hit is orchestrated by a Filipino per se. A deeper focus needs to preside over the southern Philippines. It is my conclusion that this region presents the greatest danger in the face of terrorism because of the factors mentioned previously. Southeast Asia has become a haven for these terrorists (due to scattered borders and loose immigration policy). Terrorism has put on a different face, that of militant Islamic Filipinos.
The southern Philippines hold a special position in the future. I would argue that it is the southern region that is the most valuable to Al-Qa’ida; therefore, the political decisions between the government of the Philippines and the militant Islamic groups are imperative. They will set the pace for terrorist activities for future generations to come worldwide. Clearly Southeast Asia has become one of its [terrorism’s] key theaters of operation, and we should expect continued attacks and operations in the region. The Philippines need to take definitive measures immediately before militant Islam erupts into an uncontrollable, firmly embedded state. Militant Islam has shown its face many times over in the southern Philippines, is beginning to rise to fame throughout Southeast Asia, and I suspect that it will gradually be heard around the globe. The southern Philippines have a crucial impact on the future of militant Islam’s spread and terrorism abroad.
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