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 Islamic State East Asia

(Also known as: Islamic State-Philippines, Dawlah Islamiyah-Maguindanao, Marawi Front, Ansharul Khilafah Philippines, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters-Bungos, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters-Abubakar, Jama’atu al-Muhajirin wal Ansar fil Filibin, Dawlah Islamiyah-Torayfie Group, Dawlah Islamiyah-Lanao, Islamic State Lanao, Islamic State Ranao, Maute Group, Dawlatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masrik, Wilayah East Asia and Syuful Khalifah Fi Luzon)

This statement is based on publicly available information about Islamic State East Asia (ISEA). To the Australian Government's knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the AFP Minister must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  • is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act, or
  • advocates the doing of a terrorist act

Background to this listing

This is the second time IS­EA has been proscribed by the Australian Government as a terrorist organisation. The Australian Government previously proscribed ISEA as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code on 12 September 2017.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

ISEA’s primary objective is the establishment of an Islamic State under Shariah law in the Philippines. Its secondary objective is the wider imposition of Islamic rule beyond the Philippines. ISEA publically pledged its bay'ah (allegiance) to the proscribed terrorist organisation Islamic State in December 2015 and its aims are consistent with those of Islamic State. Its members are referred to as 'soldiers of the khilafah ('caliphate'), in Islamic State propaganda.

Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

To achieve its objectives, ISEA continues to conduct terrorist attacks against military and civilian targets in the Philippines. Tactics employed include armed assaults, murders and bombings, including suicide bombings.

Attacks that IS­EA has claimed responsibility for and is assessed to have undertaken since the group was listed in 2017 include:

  • 31 July 2018: IS­EA conducted a vehicle-borne suicide bombing at a vehicle security checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan Province, killing 10 and injuring 7
  • 28 August 2018: IS­EA conducted a bombing at a night market in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat province, killing 3 and injuring 36
  • 31 December 2018: IS­EA conducted a bombing outside the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City, Maguindanao Province, killing 2 and injuring 36
  • 27 January 2019: IS­EA conducted twin suicide bombings of the Cathedral of our Lady of Mount Carmel, Jolo, Sulu Province, killing 20 and injuring 102
  • 28 June 2019: IS­EA conducted 2 suicide bombings against a military base in Indanan, Sulu Province. The attacks killed 8 and injured 24
  • 13 July 2019: Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested 2 IS­EA members in Manila in possession of grenades and blasting caps. The IS­EA members were likely planning to conduct an attack in Manila under IS­EA leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan’s direction
  • 8 September 2019: IS­EA conducted a suicide attack at a checkpoint in Indanan, Sulu Province, killing the attacker
  • 5 November 2019: 3 IS­EA fighters, including an Egyptian foreign fighter, were killed in an encounter near a checkpoint in Indanan, Sulu Province. 2 suicide vests were recovered from the fighters. The IS­EA fighters were probably transferring the vests between locations, and were likely in the final stages of preparations for a suicide attack
  • 1 January 2020: PNP arrested IS­EA member Omar Palty in Quezon City, Manila, after he attempted to sell a police officer a pistol, which he likely believed would be used in a terrorist attack. Palty was linked to Esmael Abdulmalik, a senior IS­EA leader in Maguindanao, and was reportedly tasked to coordinate other IS­EA operatives from Sulu and Basilan provinces in preparation for ISEA terrorist attacks

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

IS­EA has, directly or indirectly, advocated the doing of terrorist acts to further the group’s objectives, including:

  • 15 October 2017: ISEA distributed an English language message via online channels and chat groups calling on Muslims in Australia and East Asia to travel to Marawi, southern Philippines, to fight with the group, or to stay home and conduct domestic terrorist attacks.
  • 6 June 2018: Philippines-based ISEA member Eyadzhemar Abdusalam was arrested for encouraging a UK national to conduct a vehicle-borne attack in the United Kingdom before their earlier arrest by British authorities on 1 May 2018, and for soliciting cash payments on behalf of the group.

Details of the organisation

ISEA is affiliated with Islamic State and follows an extreme interpretation of Islam which is anti-Western, promotes sectarian violence and targets those it labels as infidels and crusaders, and who do not agree with its interpretation of Islam. It opposes elected governments, seeking to remove them through violence.

Islamic State East Asia is comprised of a number of violent extremist factions who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and merged under the Islamic State East Asia banner. These factions are comprised of members of extremist organisations including the Maute Group, a faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters under Esmail Abubakar (AKA Commander Bungos), Ansharul Khilafah Philippines, Dawlatul Islamiyah-Maguindanao and Dawlatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masrik and Jama’atu al-Muhajirin wal Ansar fil Filibin (AKA Dawlatul Islamiyah-Torayfe Group). 

All of these groups adhere to a violent jihadist ideology which predated Islamic State’s existence. These groups publicly pledged allegiance together to Islamic State in December 2015, and again in 2019, and have since undertaken terrorist acts that Islamic State claimed responsibility for.

Since the conclusion of the Marawi Conflict in October 2017, and after reconstituting following their losses, the group has conducted increasingly frequent and violent attacks against Philippines government and local sectarian targets. This has included the introduction of suicide bombings into their ongoing operations, welcoming foreign fighters into their ranks, allowing women to play operational roles, and attempts to expand their presence into Manila to conduct attacks. 

Leadership

The leader of ISEA is Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan (AKA Abu Abdallah). Individual faction leaders who follow Sawadjaan’s direction include Salahuddin Hassan, Furuji Indama, Jeffrey Nilong, Abu Zacaria, Esmael Abdulmalik and Ismael Abubakar. This has resulted in a centralised leadership structure, which retains its allegiance to Islamic State and shares its ideology and objectives. 

Membership

Islamic State East Asia total membership is uncertain, but is estimated to be upwards of 300 individuals. While most members are native to Western Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago, there are also members from other parts of the Philippines, Indonesia and possibly Malaysia. The group has welcomed small numbers of extra-regional fighters into its ranks, including individuals from Morocco, Egypt and Spain. These individuals travelled to the Philippines for the express purpose of joining ISEA.

Recruitment and funding

Islamic State East Asia exploits poor economic and social conditions in the Philippines, particularly Mindanao and neighbouring regions to attract members. Local and regional recruits are drawn by ISEA’s ability to provide economic prospects for its members and to avoid persecution by the group. Some individuals have also joined due to their ideological support for the organisation's objectives, including violently establishing an Islamic State under Shariah law. Groups under ISEA are known to recruit children whose parents have been killed fighting against government forces, which is also a motivating factor for some young people to join.  

Islamic State has provided money to ISEA to fund its terrorist activities. ISEA groups in the Philippines also undertake kidnap for ransom and local extortion ventures to generate funding.

Links to other terrorist organisations

ISEA is affiliated with Islamic State.

ISEA is comprised of members who were previously aligned with other Islamist extremist groups, including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Dawlah Islamiyah-Maguindanao, Maute Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansharul Khilafah Philippines, Dawlatul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masrik and Jama’atu al-Muhajirin wal Ansar fil Filibin. Elements of ISEA share close familial and ethnic links to the ASG, though each group has well-structured leadership organisations. 

Links to Australia

While there are no known links between ISEA and Australia, there have previously been links between Australians and terrorist groups in the Philippines.

Threats to Australian interests

ISEA has not made statements specifically threatening Australians or Australian interests; however, the group has referenced Australia as the United States’ ‘regional guard dog’ in official propaganda. It is probable Australians could be harmed in the group's future attacks, due to the considerable Australian business interests and the number of Australian travellers in the Philippines.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

ISEA was listed under the name ISIS Philippines by the United States on 28 February 2018, and the Maute Group, listed by Australia as an alias of ISEA, was listed by New Zealand on 21 March 2018.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

ISEA is not engaged in any peace or mediation processes with the Philippine Government.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation assesses that ISEA is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, ISEA is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  1. cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endanger life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public
  2. are intended to have those effects
  3. are done with the intention of advancing ISEA’s political, religious or ideological causes
  4. are done with the intention of intimidating the government of one or more foreign countries
  5. are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public
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