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Thanks to Malaysian, Syrian IS transferred a lot of money to Marawi

JAKARTA: The central command of the Islamic State in Syria has funnelled tens of thousands of dollars to militants in the Philippines over the last year, most likely aiding their spectacular seizure of the southern city of Marawi, a report said yesterday.
The report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a research institute based here, describes how Dr Mahmud Ahmad, a high-level IS figure from Malaysia, who is based near Marawi, worked through the group’s chain of command to Syria to get money and international recruits to help local militants seize territory in the Philippines for the caliphate.
The report provides insight into a question that has bewildered policymakers since IS militants swept into Marawi two months ago: How were they able to seize an important city, and what role did the IS’s central command play in the seizure?
The city has remained largely under the control of the militants for nearly two months despite a government military campaign to retake it with ground forces and aerial bombardments.
Some senior politicians in the Philippines have dismissed the Maute group, the major militant group behind the seizure of Marawi, as “IS wannabes”, characterising it as a drug mafia with little in common with the ideologically-driven IS fighters.
But the report suggests that IS commanders in Syria took the Maute Group’s strategic ambitions seriously.
IS’s ability to support its Philippine offshoots appears limited mainly to periodic Western Union transfers of tens of thousands of dollars, the report found, suggesting that direct support from Syria was a relatively minor factor in the Maute Group’s ability to seize Marawi.
The report argues that local recruiting and fundraising among pious Muslims, who resented the central government, have probably played a significant role in the insurgents’ successes.
The institute’s research is based on field visits this year to Mindanao, the island where Marawi sits, interviews with people close to Indonesian militants in the Philippines, and militants’ messages o from Telegram, the highly-encrypted messaging service used by IS.
Intercepted chats show that IS has a sophisticated command structure in Southeast Asia, allowing for complex coordination among its supporters.
In one instance last year, two Indonesian militants were connected via a Malaysian contact to another militant based in Thailand, who helped them support a prison break in that country.
The goal was to free a group of Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnic group from western China, who had been detained there.
Though the prison break was successful, the Uighurs were recaptured by Thai police.
Still, the report noted: “The story illustrates how well-connected the IS network has become, with an Indonesian connecting easily with contacts in Turkey, the Philippines and Thailand, as with his own friends in prison.”
It said international coordination of IS leaders with Southeast Asian militants might amplify the terrorism threat to neighbouring Indonesia.
The last 18 months have produced a steady trickle of low-casualty IS-inspired terrorist attacks in Indonesia, but, until now, the actions tended to be poorly planned and executed.
For example, two Indonesian suicide bombers struck in the Kampung Melayu neighbourhood in East Jakarta in May, but only three victims were killed.
A major concern for the Indonesian government is that some of the 20-odd Indonesian fighters who have joined IS groups in Mindanao will acquire the equipment and expertise to commit serious attacks at home.
The report called for Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to improve their security services’ coordination and intelligence sharing, so that the names of key suspects are passed along.
Still, the first step is ousting IS from Marawi.
When the city was seized in May, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pledged that the militants would be defeated quickly.
But, groups aligned with IS continue to maintain their grip on sections of the city, and it appears unlikely that Marawi will be fully liberated when Duterte delivers his annual address to the nation on Monday.

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