A video reportedly showing an Islamic State training camp in the Philippines. Photo: YouTube Bali bomber Imam Samudra. Photo: AP/Charles Dharapak
A video released by the Abu Sayyaf Islamists in 2012 showing former captive, n Warren Rodwell. Photo: Supplied
Terror groups form Islamic State powerhouse in Philippines
Violent pockets of rebellion are dotted across South East Asia. Alarm that Islamic State could find a toehold in the neighbourhood after more extremist groups pledge support is understandable, but not the most far-reaching security concern.
The bigger fear is the terrorist fighters from the region who have travelled to serve with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and what plans they might bring home on their eventual return.
This stems from the experience in Afghanistan in the 1990s, where the terrorists who went on to carry out the Bali bombings and other atrocities learned their deadly skills.
The eldest son of Bali bomber Imam Samudra was killed fighting for Islamic State in Syria in September, which may be one fewer terrorist to pose a threat but is an indication of the pedigree of fighters who have travelled from the region. Estimates range from anywhere up to 900 fighters from South East Asia fighting in Syria and Iraq, a comparatively small but deadly cohort.
The declaration of the allegiance and possible merger of terrorist groups in the Philippines gives Islamic State another a propaganda boost, but will make little immediate difference to the threat in the region.
The long-running insurgency in the nation’s rural south shows holding territory is fraught, let alone establishing an Islamic State-style fortress.
The local conflict has ebbed and surged, the heavy-handed police and military at times driving more supporters towards the insurgents, while the criminal zeal of the notorious Abu Sayyaf radicals alienates the local population.
A political peace process on the island of Mindanao has further driven Abu Sayyaf and other militants to extremes.
They may chirp up with fiery anti-Western denunciation but, just as occurred with their promise to attack the recent regional summit in Manila attended by leaders from the US, and other nations, their ability to back up threats with action is limited.
What this latest declaration may do is raise the profile of South East Asia in the eyes of Islamic State leaders as the boundaries of their so-called caliphate in the Middle East is pushed back.
Should an eventual collapse of Islamic State see its most fervent adherents scurry back home to pursue violence, the danger in the region will be far more acute.