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Radical Islam’s growing threat in PH

/ 05:10 AM July 28, 2019

Philippine military authorities recently disclosed that one of the two attackers behind the twin blasts in Indanan, Sulu, on June 28 was a Filipino. Based on DNA samples, the alleged perpetrator was identified as Norman Lasuca, 23, who will go down in this country’s wretched history of terrorism as the first native suicide bomber.

According to his mother, Lasuca was a victim of physical abuse by his father. To escape the violence at home, Norman, no older than 17, joined the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sometime in 2013.

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Lasuca’s conversion into a suicide bomber represents a new level of murderous skill and derangement on the part of the ASG. It provides evidence that foreign jihadists are succeeding in brainwashing our Muslim youth, and that the ASG has evolved into a formidable full-blown terrorist organization, no longer just a vicious kidnap-for-ransom gang. Most worrisome is that it exposes a new reality: the deepening alliance between ASG and foreign Salafi jihadists.

This deadly collaboration resulted in the five-month-long siege of Marawi City starting in May 2017. Government forces engaged the Maute and ASG terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, in the longest urban battle in contemporary Philippine history. The military revealed that eight foreign militants, along with the ASG’s Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, acted as leaders of the jihadists.

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Despite the constraints imposed by martial law in Mindanao, the bombings defiantly go on. Lasuca’s companion is suspected to be the son of the Moroccan attacker behind another suspected case of suicide bombing in July 2018 in Lamitan, Basilan. Late last January, the ASG received credit for the twin bombings of the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu.

Few locations are as attractive to guerillas as the southern Philippines. Its lush jungles, porous borders and gut-wrenching poverty are an open invitation to violence and extremism. But its greatest attraction is the existence of  homegrown insurgents: the ASG, the Maute group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Ansar Khalifa Philippines.

The Islamic State’s defeat in Syria in late 2017 did not annihilate the idea of a caliphate. Carrying that idea, battle-hardened veterans simply dispersed to more hospitable lands as evangelicals and mentors of a younger generation of Islamic fighters. Along with Filipino returnees, some insurgents from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia infiltrated the Philippines, and are now posing a credible threat to national security.

As one expert put it, these extremist groups “have become more decentralized, turning to their affiliates further afield to spread their message of violence and mayhem.” It is a rational fear by the public that more Norman Lasucas will be recruited as suicide bombers. If this happens, it is possible that a coordinated attack by a native group of suicide bombers could inflict destruction and carnage in our metropolitan areas, similar to what occurred in Sri Lanka on April 21. On that date, three churches and three luxury hotels in that country were devastated by a series of coordinated suicide bombings by Sri Lankan terrorists, killing some 259 people and injuring 500 others.

The motivations of suicide bombers are often simple: martyrdom and a cash bounty for the family left behind. But their beliefs are what empower them. Shiraz Maher, a specialist in jihadist radicalization,  asserts that the five doctrinal tenets of Salafi jihadists create a coherent ideology: jihad (holy war), tawhid (the oneness of God), hakimiyya (true Islamic government), al-wala walbara (loyalty to divine truth and disavowal of untruth and polytheism), and takfir (the naming of disbelievers).

While this extremist creed reflects core Islamic beliefs, it is widely rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. Takfir, for instance, is inconsistent with Islamic orthodoxy since it assumes that most Muslims are beyond salvation. This is why, in the Marawi siege, the jihadists brutalized a community of fellow Muslims due to the belief and practice of takfir—the act of declaring whole swaths of Muslims as apostates.

In our impoverished southern regions,  there are thousands of Filipino Muslim youth who might end up lured to follow the footsteps of Norman Lasuca. Unless we can provide a decent level of education, development and opportunity for them, we will perpetuate a cycle of desperation, chaos and violence. This is precisely why the ASG will never lack for recruits.

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Rex D. Lores ([email protected]) is a member of the Philippine Futuristics Society.

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf Group, Inquirer Commentary, Norman Lasuca, radical Islam, Sulu bombing
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