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Philippines | Latest edition of IS’ Rumiyah magazine focuses on ‘East Asia’

Philippines | Latest edition of IS’ Rumiyah magazine focuses on ‘East Asia’

Islamic State released the tenth edition of its Rumiyah magazine on 7 June under the title ‘The Jihad in East Asia’. The group uses this geographic term to mean Southeast Asia and – despite the cover headline – where this edition does cover the region, it focuses almost exclusively on the Philippines.

The publication does not make any direct or implied threats to companies, but the cover image shows the partially-obscured signage of Victoria’s Secret and Tommy Hilfiger outlets at the Resorts World Manila. IS has claimed the attack on the hotel and casino complex on 1 June, despite the authorities ruling out a terrorist motive.

The latest issue does not include a ‘Just Terror Tactics’ section, an influential recurring feature in Rumiyah that provides tactical guides to IS sympathisers, including recommended targets. This is not necessarily unusual, and may account for why there were two such segments in the ninth edition released last month. These segments have promoted hostage-taking and the use of trucks in attacks.

The focus on ‘East Asia’ and particularly the Philippines appears to be an attempt to leverage international attention on fighting between IS-linked fighters and security forces in the southern city Marawi, which has now entered its third week amid stubborn resistance from the militants there. The foreword features an image of the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. The text rejects any possibility of negotiation with the government, rather ‘the soldiers of the Khilafah…only negotiate with their enemies using bullets and bombs’.

The issue also contains a five-page interview with the ‘Amir of the Soldiers of the Khilafah in East Asia’, who it names as Shaykh Abu ‘Abdillah al-Muhajir. One of the article’s accompanying images shows that the name refers to Isnilon Hapilon, who past IS messaging has referred to as Abu Abdullah al-Filipini. In the interview, Hapilon says that pledges of allegiance to IS by various factions in the southern Philippines have brought greater unity, and attracted fighters from elsewhere in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Such claims are clearly propaganda, but also appear to reflect trends on the ground. The outbreak of fighting in Marawi came when one IS-aligned faction came to prevent the arrest of Hapilon, the leader of another faction, as well as the IS-appointed country leader. Meanwhile, at least some foreign fighters have been present in the south for years, and the authorities have confirmed that fighters from elsewhere in the region are in the city.

Such dynamics look likely to continue in the coming months. Despite progress by security forces to recapture Marawi, fighting in city has the potential to encourage yet more cooperation between IS-aligned groups and drive foreign militants to join them in greater numbers, as called for over the past year by IS propaganda.

Published: 13th June 2017