Is the Islamic State in Mindanao, Philippines?
From the most recent attack, where 50 members led by led by Ansar Al Khalifa and Mohd Jaafar Maguid, led a four-hour firefight with the Philippine army, National Police and Marines in Butril, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, the answer is probably yes. Much of the island of Mindanao, the Philippines most southern island, has an autonomous Muslim Islamic region around Cotabato City, Zamboanga. The radical group, Ansurul Khilafah Philippines (AKP) was founded a few years ago with the help of foreign terrorists. Among the eight terrorists dead were two Syrians who had been tracked into the country and then vanished. There are two other groups besides the AKP that has aligned themselves with the Islamic Front in Syria, the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (about 300 members) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF, 500 members), who refused to sign a peace treaty with the Philippine government in early 2015. The leader of AKP is Mohammad Jafar Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy, allegedly a former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (11,000 member), which signed a peace treaty with the Philippine government.
More worrisome is that Indonesia, home to mostly Muslims, has tracked 700 men who have traveled to join the IS in Syria and their intelligence indicated at least 100 of them have returned, of which, 70 are under surveillance. Jakarta intelligence also have tracked seven billion rupiah (S$715,000) worth of cash flowing into Indonesia to fund terrorism activities over the last three years.
The great fear is that the Islamic State might be getting terrorist cells ready in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines. Masked gunmen released a video on Facebook threatening attacks on innocent civilians and to pursue an Islamic caliphate in Mindanao. The Philippine 6th Division on Mindanao confirms that the AKP is actively recruiting young men to convert. The big lure is offering them 10,000 peso ($225 USD) and an AK-47 to conduct attacks. For many of the poor in the region, where they make only 1000-2000 peso ($25-50) a month, the offer is one many cannot refuse especially if they sympathize. Again, the recruits tend to be illiterate and poor, yet, they can easily terrorize in a mall or other public gathering area. So far, most of the groups tend to kidnap foreigners for ransom in certain areas of Mindanao. Luckily, the terrorist threat is limited to Mindanao for now and only in certain sections predominately Muslim. But, even in those sectors, despite warnings from the US and British Embassies to travelers, few such attacks have occurred.
To help, the US has a contingent of 400 - 600 man terrorist task force based in Zamboanga, which helps local Philippine task forces combat, surveillance, and train. But, if the MILF peace treaty collapses, it 11,000 member could make Mindanao a very dangerous place and one to avoid. It is ripe for influence from the Islamic State.