The Battle for Marawi: Appropriating ISIS Propaganda and Importing the Wilayah Model

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battle for marawi


Philippine-based militants led by Isnilon Hapilon are continuing their efforts to build an Islamic State (IS) presence in Central Mindanao.¹ Conflict-affected areas specifically in Lanao del Sur (LDS) province are favorable to the entry of foreign jihadists. These individuals may decide to join IS-affiliated groups in the Philippines instead of travelling to the Middle East. As the IS core faces increasing pressure from coalition forces, Mindanao could serve as a halfway house for Katibah Nusantara (KN) fighters seeking to hone their combat skills before returning to their countries of origin. Denying space to a potential ‘wilayah Mindanao’ rests on the success of the peace process with mainstream Filipino Muslim groups. The ongoing Battle for Marawi highlights the risk of complacency and the necessity of dealing with the roots of the Mindanao conflict.


The Battle for Marawi

In late January 2017, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana reported that 15 IS-affiliated terrorists were killed after a night-time airstrike in Central Mindanao. Among the reported fatalities was an Indonesian national identified only as Mohisen. Also, allegedly wounded in the strike was Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Basilan faction and leader of IS-pledged militants in the Philippines. Hapilon’s faction moved from Basilan province to Butig municipality, LDS as part of an initial overture to establish a permanent IS presence in the Philippines. Lorenzana remarked that Hapilon acted on the “behest of the ISIS people in the Middle East” to check whether the area would be a viable place for a wilayah.²

Butig was selected by Hapilon as the rallying point for other IS-pledged Filipino militants due to the presence of the Maute Group (MG). Members of the MG pledged allegiance to IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in April 2015 then subsequently referred to themselves as “IS Ranao” in online chat applications.³ To LDS residents, they are simply the 200-strong “grupong ISIS” or “group of ISIS”.⁴ On 24 November 2016, the MG made international headlines, making a statement by raising an IS flag in front of the disused Butig municipal hall.⁵ Hapilon appeared convinced that the MG would be a useful ally, with the latter’s ability to wage a protracted guerrilla campaign against government forces.

At the time of writing, the Philippine military remains involved in clearing operations to confront stragglers from the “Maute-Daesh” fighters holed up in four barangays in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.⁶ The month-long fighting began in 23 May 2017, when Philippine security forces attempted to capture Isnilon Hapilon who was in the city. The raid degenerated into a series of clashes that have left more than 200 militants dead and displaced 90 percent of Marawi’s population.⁷ As the clashes continued, the military claimed that the raid pre-empted the Maute-Daesh intent to occupy Marawi City.

The raging battle prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.⁸ The Battle for Marawi demonstrates how militants in the Philippines appear to be more willing to launch attacks in urban areas.⁹ The Duterte administration must however tread carefully lest they give the Maute Group and its allies the recognition it seeks from the IS core:

Paradoxically, the declaration of martial law may be interpreted by the IS core that Mindanao had been sundered from the Philippines by Hapilon. Instead of a show of force, martial law may be taken as a go-signal by foreign terrorist fighters to exploit the perceived lapse of government control in Mindanao.¹⁰


A more viable ‘wilayah Mindanao’?

Attempts to establish a permanent presence for foreign jihadists in Central Mindanao have historical precedents even pre-dating the Maute Group’s notoriety. In 1994, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) built training camps for foreign jihadists with seed funding from Al Qaeda (AQ).¹¹ From 1996- 1998 the camps trained hundreds of Southeast Asians mostly from Indonesia, before they were dismantled after the 2000 “all-out war” against the MILF by the Philippine President Joseph Estrada.¹²

As AQ influence waned, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) used pre-existing connections between Indonesian AQ militants and the MILF to build their own training camps in Central Mindanao. From 2003 to 2005, JI successively built and occupied a camp in Mt. Cararao and Camp Jabal Huda.¹³ Khadaffy Janjalani, then leader of the ASG, sensed an opportunity to consolidate forces with the JI in Central Mindanao but were interdicted by a joint MILF-Philippine military operation.¹⁴ This was made possible by the successful implementation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) mechanism created by the MILF and the government in 2002. AHJAG provided the framework for MILF-GPH cooperation in neutralizing other armed groups and criminal elements.

The ASG’s repeated attempts to relocate to Central Mindanao indicate awareness of the difficulties in sustaining a large armed presence in Basilan. Basilan’s location in Western Mindanao is arguably more accessible for Indonesian and Malaysians planning a hijrah or pilgrimage to IS territory. It must be stressed that IS twisted the original religious meaning of hijrah for its propaganda. Hapilon traded Basilan’s proximity to the Philippines’ maritime borders for the more defensible location of Butig municipality. Compared to the constricted geography of Basilan, Lanao del Sur’s complex terrain poses more obstacles against government forces.

For militants, the defensive depth of Central Mindanao is complemented by its abundance of resources. The JI training camps were set within rich and well-irrigated farmland, which allowed for indefinite sustainment of trainees and cadres. Agricultural produce sourced from farming communities controlled by militants find a ready market in the urban centers of Mindanao such as Cotabato City.¹⁵


Selling Mindanao to Southeast Asian jihadists

Hapilon’s stature as an effective leader for IS fighters and supporters in Southeast Asia rests on forging the security and resources promised by Central Mindanao into a functioning base. The ascension of new provinces or wilayahs is mutually beneficial for the IS leadership and would-be wilayah walis for it demonstrates that IS is succeeding in its divine mission, while obscure jihadist groups get to “sign up for the hottest thing”.¹⁶

Even the threat of a future wilayah could be useful for jihadist groups such as the Hapilon faction, short of an actual declaration by Baghdadi or other senior members of the IS core. In November 2014, Dabiq issue no. 5 mentioned that the pledge from Philippine groups had been accepted but like some other countries had “delayed the announcement of their respective [wilayah]….”¹⁷ There appears to be tacit recognition within the IS leadership that Southeast Asian groups continued to have no “infrastructure of control” that could be the basis for a formal wilayah.¹⁸

Al-Baghdadi’s alleged choice of the Southern Philippines as “the ISIS’ base” in Southeast Asia appears intentionally vague.¹⁹ This appears consistent with the assessment that IS may have abandoned its wilayah-based expansion model.²⁰ This strategic ambiguity allows Hapilon the discretion to consolidate his influence. In a June 2016 video, Malaysian Abu Aun al-Malysi along with other unidentified Indonesian and Filipino militants, exhorted followers to join their “brothers” in Mindanao.²¹

It must be noted however, that the al-Malaysi’s call did not mention the establishment of a wilayah. Instead of being declared a wali, Hapilon was referred to as an “emir” or leader of an IS “division”, with the Philippines being considered part of “the land of jihad” and not as the “land of the caliphate”.²² The reluctance of the IS leadership to declare a wilayah is probably due to the present inability of Hapilon’s faction to exercise de facto governance.²³ This means that IS may no longer be interested with exercising operational control over Hapilon’s IS “division” and would just be content claiming attacks in Mindanao no matter how tenuous the linkages are. Claiming attacks regardless of the absence of actual links works in IS core’s favor to buttress their propaganda campaign.

Even without the full wilayah designation, Hapilon and his followers appear set in producing indigenous propaganda content that promotes the existence of an actively fighting IS division. Two channels, moderated by Filipino-speaking users, were active in producing original content from June-August 2016. The “IS Philippines Supporters” channel during its one-month long existence (July 2016) had around 70 members. Content shared on the channel was focused on previous activities by Isnilon Hapilon, specifically meetings leading up to the January 2015 pledge. Its content changed to dispatches depicting training activities by “IS Ranao” forces²⁴ and showcasing ghanimah or “spoils of war” seized from government troops (Figure 1).²⁵

While “IS Philippines Supporters” was active, another Telegram channel named after “IS Ranao” also operated from (May-August 2016). IS Ranao’s focus was on content depicting marksmanship training by armed men in a riverine area in Lanao del Sur (Figure 2).²⁶

figure 1

fug 2

Assessing connections through IS-influenced propaganda

Propaganda material produced in Mindanao and distributed via messaging apps can also be a key indicator of the depth and breadth of jihadist connections. This is in addition to the regularly published official IS magazines. In June 2017, IS published issue 10 of its Rumiyah (translated as “Rome”) propaganda magazine, with its cover titled “The Jihad in East Asia”.²⁷

But prior to Hapilon’s designation as emir for IS forces in Southeast Asia, there were already signs of symbolic connections in place. Philippine militants’ mimicry of Amaq Agency-style content was not only an aesthetic choice but was intended to draw in Southeast Asia-based sympathizers familiar with IS propaganda.

The first instance of this mimicry could be found in an MG video circulated in April 2016. In the video, two of six kidnapped sawmill workers were beheaded.²⁸ The sawmill workers were dressed in orange garments, imitating the orange jumpsuits that feature prominently in gory IS videos (Figure 3).²⁹ Subsequently, the images were circulated among Telegram accounts with Arabic script overlays. Those edited photos were then recirculated by Amaq Agency, an online propaganda outlet associated with IS.³⁰

figure 3

An important function of IS-influenced content is to provide Filipinos active on chat applications with talking points to discuss with other “jihobbyists” in Mindanao and overseas.³² The shift in propaganda aesthetics towards the Amaq template underscores the changing motivations for producing content. For content disseminated via Telegram, there is a deliberate attempt to package the content to look like “official” IS material. The template is as follows: (1) 15-45 seconds of generic IS computer-generated imagery (CGI) consisting of logos and black flags; (2) 5 to 7 minutes of ASG footage; (3) 15-30 seconds of additional IS-themed CGI; all overlaid with (4) subtitles.³³

In comparison, pre-IS indigenous propaganda involved straightforward videos designed to act as “proof-of-life” videos for kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) activities. The only group that appears to produce KFR-related videos is the ASG faction in Sulu (ASG-Sulu) headed by Hatib Sawadjaan. Online material depicting the executions of Canadian hostages John Ridsdel and Robert Hall (Figure 4) were free of distinctive markers found in IS videos such as CGI/animated logos, watermarks or nasheed audio tracks.³⁴ Only a crude reproduction of an IS flag could be seen in the Ridsdel and Hall videos. These proof-of-life/KFR videos were not as widely disseminated on Telegram channels frequented by IS sympathizers. The lack of IS branding has limited the reach of such propaganda, demonstrating the utility of Amaq-style aesthetics.

figure 4

The content of IS-influenced indigenous propaganda also provides clues to novel techniques and tactics that were imparted to Filipino militants from overseas. IS in Syria and Iraq demonstrated that it is possible to use consumer-grade quadcopter drones to deliver lethal payloads.³⁵ In the Philippines, MG members documented a test flight of their surveillance drone (Figure 5).³⁶ The device in question is a simple glider-type drone which is less sophisticated than the quadcopters used by IS to drop grenades. It is currently unknown if the MG were able to progress from rudimentary surveillance drones to the quadcopter bombers of IS in Iraq/Syria.³⁷ As the Battle for Marawi unfolded, the AFP has now publicly admitted the MG’s use of drones to conduct rudimentary aerial surveillance of government troop positions.³⁸fig5

A new Southeast Asia alumni network

With Isnilon Hapilon as IS leader in Mindanao, there is a greater chance that displaced Southeast Asian foreign fighters from the Katibah Nusantara fighting unit in IS-occupied Raqqa, Syria would have a figurehead to seek out and follow. There is already concern that when fighters return to the region “they will build a kind of alumni network, like the fighters from Afghanistan nearly two decades ago”.³⁹

The Philippines, with its lax security legislation may prove to be a better option for Malaysians escaping the re-capture of Mosul and Raqqa. The Battle for Marawi will only make Mindanao an even more attractive destination for conflict tourism by IS sympathizers. In short, Indonesian and Malaysian fighters returning from the Katibah Nusantara may find Central Mindanao a more inviting prospect then returning to their home countries.

The most established networks are from Malaysia. A recently disrupted plot uncovered that Sabah was slated to be the transit point for Southeast and South Asian militants keen to join Hapilon and his Malaysian backer, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad.⁴⁰ Malaysia’s Special Branch was able to disrupt the plot, when it arrested four suspects trying to recruit new IS members from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.⁴¹ In contrast to the Philippines, Malaysia has legislation that covers membership with terrorist organizations overseas.⁴²

In Indonesia, proposed changes to anti-terror legislation are envisioning a wider role for the military to fight terrorism.⁴³ From Indonesia, the networks to infiltrate the southern Philippines appear to be headed by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian national based in IS-occupied Raqqa, Syria.⁴⁴ He is leader of the Southeast Asian “Katibah Nusantara” fighting unit and aspires to be the leader of IS-inspired groups in his home region.⁴⁵ The networks maintained by Indonesia to funnel fighters into Mindanao appear less established.

Indonesian and Malaysian jihadists could use Mindanao as a training-cum-halfway-house before returning to their home countries. The tropical environment of Mindanao is a close match to the climate and terrain of both Indonesia in Malaysia. In April 2016, Hapilon’s faction together with foreign nationals launched what some observers claimed as the first IS attack on Philippine soil.⁴⁶ ASG fighters along with foreign fighters ambushed troops from the 44th Infantry Battalion. Killed were 18 soldiers and 26 militants, including the Moroccan bomb maker Mohammad Khattab. Amaq propagandists claimed 100 soldiers were killed in Basilan during the 09 April attack (Figure 6).⁴⁷fig6

This new alumni network can take advantage of the “terrorist transit triangle” area comprised of the borderlands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines surrounding the Sulawesi Sea.⁴⁸ The triangle is also known for the ease of movement even for undocumented individuals. For example, General Santos City in Eastern Mindanao is a known ingress point for Indonesian militants but has limited intelligence coverage available.⁴⁹ This distinct geography and border configuration once provided Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) a conducive environment for the movement of logistics to launch its attacks.⁵⁰ It is no question that this latent network can be revitalized again.

Weapons from Central Mindanao first arrived in Indonesia into Ambon during the height of the sectarian conflict there.⁵¹ Firearms were moved through established smuggling routes emanating from Mindanao, passing through Manado in Northern Sulawesi and then onwards to Ambon. While the sectarian conflict has diminished, the corridors remain active. The late Santoso’s East Indonesia Mujahideen, a jihadist group based in Sulawesi, continued to use the route, acquiring several firearms including grenade launchers in 2014.⁵² Less established are the routes to smuggle arms into Malaysia, perhaps due to the smaller number of firearms involved. Rather than relying on smuggling networks, weapons are simply ferried by fishing boats plying the waters between Tawau in Sabah state and Mindanao.⁵³

Severing connections

The multi-faceted connections between Filipino and Southeast Asian militants pose an inherently complex problem. The AFP Development Support and Security Plan (DSSP) Kapayapaan or “Peace” continues to prescribe the use of intelligence-driven, combat operations against terrorist groups like the ASG. Combat operations continue to take precedence over negotiations at the tactical level. It is at the strategic-level where Manila’s response falters due to the absence of a nationwide countering violent extremism (CVE) strategy.

No Philippine presidency has formulated a comprehensive CVE initiative to counter Islamist terrorism in the Philippines that brings together civilian and military stakeholders. On the ground, the military relies on community development and infrastructure building to win hearts and minds. These efforts, however, are designed around the secular communist insurgency.

The lax security legislation in the Philippines is also a factor that diminishes the ability of the State to deter terrorism. There is a need to review the current Human Security Act (HSA), to make it more responsive to the needs of law enforcement agencies. Penalties in the act intended to prevent abuse of detention powers have inadvertently precluded law enforcers from applying the HSA.

Another complicating factor for the military’s approach is its very limited capability to secure the porous southern borders. The immediate solution is to strengthen regional cooperation. Joint maritime patrols to secure the Sulawesi and Sulu Seas have been reinvigorated after the 3rd Trilateral Defence Minister’s Meeting in August 2016.⁵⁴ Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines came to the agreement in response to a series of kidnappings that victimized Indonesian and Malaysians citizens.

Denying Hapilon the opportunity to consolidate IS influence in the Philippines after the Battle for Marawi is hinged on the success of the Bangsamoro peace process. In the short-term, it is critical that Marawi not only be rebuilt and rehabilitated. Rather, it should be a showcase of Philippine government resolve to address the needs of Filipino Muslims. Failing to do so may drive the younger generation of secessionists into the arms of jihadists such as the ASG and the MG. President Rodrigo Duterte’s restart of the stalled Mindanao peace process by reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to draft the organic act for the Bangsamoro in February 2017 is an important first step.

Beyond a political settlement, the Philippines must look ahead for new avenues to defeat the extremist ideology being pushed by the ASG and MG. A nationwide CVE program tailored to the distinct human and social terrain of Mindanao is long overdue. Initiatives similar to disengagement programs aimed at communist insurgents could be a potential starting point.

On the online front, the Duterte administration can tap into its pervasive social media presence. Duterte’s campaign was the first to take social media “seriously” which resulted in 40 percent of the presidential vote.⁵⁵ Duterte’s online mobilization ultimately amassed him an estimated 14 million social media “volunteers” across the Philippines.⁵⁶ These volunteers along with celebrity influencers should be coaxed to carry CVE-related messaging.


Existing linkages among Southeast Asian jihadists make Mindanao vulnerable to infiltration by returning foreign fighters. Mindanao’s porous borders further facilitate the movement of jihadists keen to link up with Hapilon’s faction, whether they are returnees or new recruits from Southeast Asia.

As the IS core buckles under pressure in Iraq and Syria, it will try to expand its influence more subtly. IS command and control of affiliated groups is shifting from the centralized wilayah system to a more dispersed division system. Direct operational links and the financing of terror plots through the wilayah system are more susceptible to detection by security services. In comparison, a loose network composed of IS divisions would be more resilient from counter-terrorist activities. A decentralized network of divisions will also serve as a wider platform for propaganda production and dissemination. Creating a wider propaganda footprint would complement the IS call for more lone wolf attacks.

Increased IS influence may inadvertently be overlooked by security services who are waiting for the formal declaration of a wilayah in Mindanao. The failure to appreciate available intelligence has brought about the current violence in Marawi. Rather than an outright threat reduction, the fall of Mosul and Raqqa may only herald a new phase of jihadist violence in Southeast Asia.

This working paper is written by Joseph Franco.

Download this paper in this link: The Battle for Marawi – Franco (SRI Working Paper)


1 ABS-CBN News, “15 terrorists killed as bombs dropped on Hapilon’s lair—AFP” ABS CBN News, 29 January 2017. URL:
2 Francis Wakefield, “ASG leader Hapilon wounded in Butig airstrike” Manila Bulletin, 28 January 2017. URL:
3 Maria Ressa, “Who is behind the Davao bombing?” Rappler, 05 September 2016. URL: 02 August 2016 Telegram post from “IS Ranao” channel.
4 Author conversations with Philippine Army officer from the 49th Infantry Battalion deployed in Butig municipality.
5 At the height of the siege, 10 hectares of the town centre were reportedly occupied by the MG until a six-day military campaign cleared Butig from the MG. See Carmela Fonbuena, “PH Army suffers 1st death in Butig 3”, Rappler, 07 December 2016. URL:
6 “Daesh” is a pejorative term used to refer to the so-called Islamic State by governments and security services.
7 GMA News Online, “Maute-ISIS bandits use drone in Marawi to evade pursuing soldiers”, 19 June 2017. URL:
8 Proclamation No. 2016 “Declaring a State of Martial Law and Suspending the Privilege of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Whole of Mindanao” dated 23 May 2017.
9 Joseph Franco, “The Maute Group: New Vanguard of IS in Southeast Asia?” RSIS Commentaries, 31 May 2017.
10 Ibid.
11 Maria Ressa, Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia (New York: Free Press, 2003).
12 Cesar Pobre, In Assertion of Sovereignty: The 2000 Campaign Against the MILF (Quezon City: Office of Strategic and Special Studies, 2008).
13 International Crisis Group (ICG), “The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs counter-terrorism in Mindanao” Asia Report No. 152 (14 May 2008). For a description of Camp Jabal Huda see: Angel Rabasa, “Case Study: the Sulawesi-Mindanao Arc” in Angel Rabasa, et. al., Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks (Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2007).
14 Cesar Pobre, In Assertion of Sovereignty: The Peace Process (Quezon City: Office of Strategic and Special Studies, 2009).
15 Joseph Franco, “The MILF: Pragmatic Power Structure” in Michelle Hughes and Michael Miklaucic, eds., Impunity: Countering Illicit Power in War and Transition (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, 2016).
16 William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2015).
17 Dabiq no. 5, 1436 Muharram (November 2014).
18 Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (New York: Harper Collins, 2015).
19 “ISIS plan for Mindanao poses threat to Indonesia” The Straits Times, 08 December 2016. URL:
20 Charlie Winter, “Has the Islamic State Abandoned its Provincial Model in the Philippines?” War on the Rocks, 22 July 2016. URL: See also “New video message from the Islamic State: The Solid Edifice—the Philippines” Jihadology, 21 June 2016. URL: A similar analysis was made in Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Observations on the new Islamic State video ‘Structure of the Caliphate’”, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s Blog, 06 July 2016. URL:
21 Akil Yunus, “IS releases video to recruit Asians” The Star, 24 June 2016. URL:
22 Winter, C., “Has the Islamic State Abandoned its Provincial Model in the Philippines?”
23 Jawad, A., “Observations on the new Islamic State video ‘Structure of the Caliphate’”.
24 IS Ranao, is a moniker used by MG members to imply the existence of a “Ranao” IS wilayah. Ranao is the archaic term used to Lake Lanao, which is an important source of irrigation for the Muslim-populated Lanao del Sur and Christian-populated Lanao del Norte provinces.
25 11 July 2016 Telegram post from “IS Philippines Supporters” channel.
26 02 August 2016 Telegram post from “IS Ranao” channel.
27 Copy of Rumiyah 10 viewed by author.
28 GMA News, “Maute group members behead 2 sawmill workers” GMA News Online, 13 April 2016. URL:
29 Institute for the Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), “Pro-ISIS Groups in Mindanao and their links to Indonesia and Malaysia”, IPAC Report No. 33, 25 October 2016.
30 Gregg Wyatt, “ISIS in Mindanao: Parsing Fact from Fiction” Presentation delivered at Pacific Strategies and Assessment (PSA) Seminar on “The Troubled South”, 27 May 2016. Rukmini Callimachi, “A News Agency With Scoops Directly from ISIS, and a Veneer of Objectivity”, New York Times, 15 January 2016.
31 Simon Tomlinson, “ISIS takes its barbaric brand of justice to the Philippines as two sawmill workers are beheaded after being accused of spying”, Daily Mail, 21 April 2016. URL:
32 The term jihobbyist was coined in Jarret Brachman, Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice, London: Routledge (2009).
33 Author conversations and email correspondence with Manila-based analyst from May to June 2016.
34 Author screen capture of Robert Hall execution video.
35 Nick Waters, “ISIS is building bombs to arm its drone air force” War Is Boring, 10 February 2017. URL: See also Nick Waters, “Death from Above: The Drone Bombs of the Caliphate” Bellingcat, 10 February 2017. URL:
36 IS Ranao Telegram video dated 13 May 2016.
37 While the video was released in 2016, the actual time stamp on the video indicates that it was recorded in August 2015.
38 GMA News Online, “Maute-ISIS bandits use drone in Marawi to evade pursuing soldiers” GMA News, 19 June 2017. URL:
39 Bhavan Jaipragas, “Why are Malaysia, Singapore nervous as Iraq looks to retake Mosul from Islamic State?” South China Morning Post, 18 October 2016.
40 Pei Ying Teoh, “Police smash IS terror cell in Malaysia with arrest of four” The New Straits Times, 23 January 2017. URL:
41 Mahmud is a former lecturer from the Universiti Malaya, Malaysia. See
42 Amy Chew, “Challenge of dealing with ISIS returnees” The Straits Times, 17 August 2015.
43 Wahyudi, Soeriaatmadja, “Military set to play larger role in Jakarta’s anti-terror fight” The Strait Times, 27 February 2017. URL:
44 “Indonesian police: ISIS wants Bahrun Naim to set up base in southern Philippines” Rappler, 17 December 2016. URL:
45 “8 things you need to know about Muhammad Bahrun Naim, alleged mastermind of Jakarta attack” The Strait Times, 15 January 2016. URL:
46 Camille Diola, “ISIS releases first propaganda video for Philippines”, Philippine Star, 22 June 2016.
47 12 June 2016 Telegram post from “Man el-Ghareeb” channel.
48 Charles Comer, “The Parting of the Sulawesi Sea: U.S. Strategy and Transforming the Terrorist Transit Triangle”, Military Parade, May-June 2010, pp. 82-87.
49 Author online conversations with AFP joint task force commander based in Mindanao.
50 Justin Hastings, “Geography, Globalization, and Terrorism: The Plots of Jemaah Islamiyah”, Security Studies, Vol. 17, No. 3 (2008), pp. 505-530.
51 ICG, “Illicit Arms in Indonesia” Policy Briefing No. 19, 06 September 2010.
52 Keisyah Aprilia Palu, “Indonesia: Santoso got weapons from Southern Philippines, Police Say”, 06 April 2016. URL:
53 Justin Hastings, No Man’s Land: Globalization, Territory, and Clandestine Groups in Southeast Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010).
54 Arlina Arshad, A., “Jakarta, KL and Manila to start joint patrols in Sulu Sea” The Straits Times, 05 August 2016.
55 BBC Trending, “Trolls and Triumph: A Digital Battle in the Philippines” BBC News, 07 December 2016. URL:
56 Sean Williams, S., “Rodrigo Duterte’s Army of Online Trolls”, New Republic, 04 January 2017. URL: See also Dana Roberson, “The Filipino President Has Deployed a ‘Social Media Army’ to Push His Agenda” The Takeaway, 10 January 2017. URL:

Joseph Franco is a Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also Fellow with the Security Reform Initiative.

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