Philippines Alert: Islamic State claims ‘soldiers of caliphate’ killed 40 AFP troops in Basilan while AFP reports one dead; indicates IS Asia pivot

AFFECTED AREA ► Sulu, Basilan, Philippines

MAX.Philippines2.July10_0Focal points in Sulu Archipelago

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Please be advised:

  • The Islamic State (IS) issued a statement on July 9 claiming that 40 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were killed in clashes with ‘soldiers of the caliphate’ on Basilan Island in the Sulu Archipelago over the past nine days, as the group states that fighting is still ongoing between its affiliate groups and the AFP. The group also claimed to have captured two checkpoints from the AFP. However, according to AFP claims, only one soldier was killed and six others injured as troops engaged in fire with Abu Sayyaf units, comprising of approximately 130 gunmen, near the Sulu town of Patikul.
  • Reports from June 24 indicate the release of an IS video encouraging radicalized Southeast Asians to go to the Philippines. A man identified by Malaysian authorities to be Mohd Rafi Udin, a Malaysian national believed to be in Syria, stated that those who could not reach Syria should take up arms against “worshippers of the cross” in Philippines and resist the “deceptive tactics” of President elect Rodrigo Duterte.
  • Meanwhile on July 8, President Rodrigo Duterte commented that he does not view Abu Sayyaf as a criminals, claiming that they were driven to radicalization by the failed peace process between the Moro Islamist movements in the southern Philippines and the government in Manila. Reports on July 6 indicate that airstrikes and ground operations were launched against Abu Sayyaf and its leader Isnilon Hapilon in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Province on July 3.

MAX.ISCLAIM.July10Original claim taken from Islamic State media


  1. The conflicting numbers claimed by IS and the AFP are indicative of an ongoing propaganda struggle between both sides in the wake of the July 3 offensives against the militant group’s affiliate Abu Sayyaf. While IS claims remain unconfirmed, the recent video calling for radicalized Southeast Asians to join the fight in the Philippines, as a an alternative to joining the IS cadre in Syria, indicates a series pivot towards Southeast Asia by IS high command in the Middle East, using local affiliates. Furthermore, the use of the phrase ‘soldiers of the caliphate’, indicates that IS see Abu Sayyaf members as fighting for the Islamic State to create a global caliphate and not just as an allied group. In line with that objective, the group may likely continue to release controversial media to bolster local participation within its affiliates and increase its operational presence in the region, while continuing to carry out attacks against AFP forces. Moreover, the fighing in Sulu, as well as ongoing reports of Abu Sayyaf kidnappings in the region, serve to illustrate an intensity in the group’s regional operations.
  2. Despite the known operational capabilities of Abu Sayyaf, and the declared IS support for the group, it remains unclear how much direct communication there is on a regualr basis between Sulu and Islamic State high command in Iraq-Syria. Nonetheless, the aforementioned fighting and claim are indicative of a significant Islamist militant threat in the Sulu Archipelago. Furthermore, following AFP’s seeming inability to eradicate Abu Sayyaf in the area as well as Duterte’s comments that indicated some level of empathy for the members of the group, despite IS affiliation, it remains unclear what strategy his administration will adopt towards the group; whether a continuation of the current offensives in Basilan or attempts to negotiate. In that regard, we assess that clashes between the AFP and Abu Sayyaf are likely to continue rendering the areas around the Sulu Archipelago at an extreme risk of militancy.
  3. Finally, given past precedent noted in the Middle East, we can assess that following the IS call for militants not to travel to Syria, but to relocate to the Philippines, in order to help Abu Sayyaf in Southeast Asia, it is likely that there will be a significant influx of foreign fighters to the region over the coming months. This assessment is underscored by increases in foreign fighters in the Sinai and Libya, following IS calls for recruits.


  1. Travel to Metro Manila may continue at this time while adhering to standard security protocols given the latent threat of militancy, crime, and unrest.
  2. We advise against all travel to the Sulu Archipelago, including the islands of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi Tawi, over the coming days and weeks, given the high threat of militancy and ongoing clashes between Abu Sayyaf and the AFP.


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