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IS-inspired militants on offensive in Philippines

TO GO WITH: Philippines Muslim conflict Iraq Syria by Joel Guinto In this photo taken on March 1, 2016 shows Philippine soldiers standing guard next to tanks in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province, in southern island of Mindanao, one week after gunmen waved black flags of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS attacked a military outpost. Militants who launched a deadly assault on a remote army outpost in the southern Philippines were inspired by the Islamic State group, and more attacks are likely, analysts and the nation's main Muslim rebel group said.   AFP PHOTO / Mark Navales / AFP / MARK NAVALES

Manila / AFP

Militants fighting in the name of the IS group are escalating attacks in the southern Philippines, analysts said, deepening fears for the volatile region after its main Muslim rebel group failed to seal a peace pact.
Gunmen who have pledged allegiance to the extremists controlling vast swathes of Iraq and Syria have instigated a series of deadly battles with the army since the nation’s parliament blocked the peace push last month.
An assassination attempt this week on a preacher who was on an IS hit list has raised the alarm further, although police emphasised they were yet to determine the gunman’s motives.
“Their influence is growing stronger and it is expanding,” Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research said, referring to IS.
He said the various local groups that had pledged allegiance to IS were “planning big operations, like bombings, attacks or assassinations”. Such violence has plagued large areas of the southern Philippines for decades, as Muslim rebels have fought a separatist insurgency that has claimed 120,000 lives.
The violence has left the region one of the poorest in the Philippines, while allowing warlords and extortion gangs to flourish. Many of the predominantly Catholic Philippines’ Muslim minority live in the south.
The biggest rebel group, the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had been working hard with President Benigno Aquino’s administration for nearly six years to broker an end to the rebellion.
But when congress failed to pass a bill last month that would have granted autonomy to the region, the peace process was frozen.
The MILF has pledged to honour a ceasefire while it waits for Aquino’s successor to be elected mid-year.

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