U.S. food company executives should be aware that the Department of State is warning U.S. citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to parts of the Philippines. The warning comes at the same time an ISIS-affiliate has reportedly raised its flag over municipal buildings in a southern city in the southeast Asian country, reports Reuters.
The state department warning says to avoid the Sulu Archipelago and the southern Sulu Sea region and exercise extreme caution when traveling to Mindanao because of continued terrorist threats, insurgent activities and kidnappings.
This growth of ISIS in the Philippines and the spread of terrorism has led one expert to forecast Islamic State will announce a new province on the Philippines’ second largest island, Mindinao. Otso Iho, senior analyst for the IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, a British publisher, has been quoted as saying it is only a matter of time before ISIS controls swathes of the southern Philippines.
While Arab and Western armies continue to win the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and ISIS counts its losses in Libya, the movement continues to garner support in other countries, says the Clarion Project, a nonprofit focused on Islamist extremism. “These are not lone wolves but well-drilled fighting forces ready to take on national armies and launch terror attacks against civilians in order to advance their final goal – the declaration of a caliphate wherever possible and the sooner the better,” the organization said.
Several Islamist terror organizations have already pledged allegiance to ISIS, including Abu Sayyaf and Maute, according to the Reuters article. Iho said he expects that they will be ready to merge under the ISIS flag and that right now there is little to prevent these groups from operating freely in Mindanao.
The state department warning said U.S. citizens should defer non-essential travel through the southern Sulu Sea region from the southern tip of Palawan, along the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, and the islands of the Sulu Archipelago, up to Zamboanga City, Mindanao. Terrorist and insurgent groups based in the Sulu Archipelago continue to target foreigners for kidnapping in the Eastern Sabah province of Malaysia and in the southern Sulu Sea area.
The warning said U.S. citizens also should continue to exercise extreme caution if traveling to certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao. Separatist and terrorist groups continue to carry out attacks and kidnappings against civilians, foreigners, political leaders, and Philippine security forces in Mindanao. Since January 2015, the warning said, at least 15 separate kidnappings have been reported across Mindanao. In western Mindanao, terrorist, insurgent, and criminal gangs regularly conduct kidnappings for ransom, including the kidnapping of a foreigner in Dipolog City in early October 2015 by unknown assailants.
The warning continued that in central Mindanao, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remains active in the Cotabato City area, and in the Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces, where the government maintains a state of emergency and a greater police presence. While there have been no recent reported terrorist threats or incidents within the Davao City or Surigao city limits, eastern Mindanao is not free from threats.
In September 2015, assailants belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnapped four individuals, including three foreigners, from the popular resort island of Samal, a 15-minute boat ride from Davao City. There have been no reports of U.S. citizens in Mindanao targeted specifically for their nationality; however, general threats to U.S. citizens and other foreigners throughout Mindanao remain a concern.