By Patricia Lourdes Viray
MANILA, Philippines — Mindanao might be a new battlefield accessible to regional extremists if the Abu Sayyaf Group-Maute coalition holds on to Marawi City, an American analyst said.
Thomas Sanderson, the transnational threats project director at influential think tank CSIS, warned that without a short-term solution to the fighting in Marawi and a long-term solution to problems in Mindanao, ISIS could come to see Mindanao as its primary destination.
The ongoing fighting in Marawi would eventually attract more foreign and local fighters, financial support and media attention, according to Sanderson.
"None of that is good for the security of the Philippine nation, especially local civilians (Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and others) in desperate need of economic development and responsive government," Sanderson said in his testimony before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
Sanderson noted that the battle in Marawi has become the focal point of activity of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Southeast Asia as more than 500 militant fighters have joined the fight.
The diversity of nationalities among militant casualties raises alarm in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency communities.
"Among the roughly 80 foreign fighters thought to have been in the battle, the dead included fighters from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Chechnya, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia," Sanderson said.
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