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ISIS is on Australia's doorstep: Their secret dens and a cellphone confirms it



As he descends the dozen steps into total darkness, Corporal Roger Morillo pauses for a moment, less to allow his eyes to adjust and more to note the gravitas of what lies beneath.



The air is dank, the relentless monsoonal rains outside have seeped through the underground plastered walls and the bespectacled young soldier sighs as he twists his slight but tall frame to enter the dungeon.


Some of the 100 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been killed by what was done here in this cramped space below a house in the city of Marawi; some were friends, all were colleagues and their deaths and the continued conflict weighs heavily on most of the 20-something year old soldiers on the newest ISIS frontline.


In the first four weeks of the insurgency in this once lively city of Marawi on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, Filipino forces suffered more than 300 casualties many maimed from the sorts of injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) like the ones that were believed to have been made from this and other hidden dens of death.


A mini bomb factory using eight to 10 inch nails packed into urns and other vessels that can tear a body apart and have hampered forces from retaking the city from the Islamic State backed rebels.


“We weren’t expecting this,” the Filipino soldier Morillo says as his torch lights up the dark corners.


It is not clear whether he means the discovery of the hidden den below a laundry in the home or the broader war that has now entered its third month and has prompted fears across the region it could be the powder keg catalyst for Islamic uprisings across South East Asia.


It is probably more accurate to say everybody expected something like this to happen in the Philippines but perhaps not to the extent of such a well-trained, foreign, financed and organised insurgency that from May 23 has resisted a battalion-sized force of Filipino troops, daily 105mm Howitzer canons pounding and helicopter gunship and aircraft strafes.


For many months intelligence agencies have warned that battle-hardened ISIS fighters being routed in Iraq and Syria were setting up a new front and had formed alliances between up to six jihadist groups in the Philippines including the deadly Abu Sayef and Maute groups and Ansar Khalifa Philippines and 60 groups elsewhere in the region including the remnants of the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiah — the group behind the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.


But despite suspicions hundreds of jihadists had slipped into Philippines across the Sulu Sea from Indonesia, Sulawesi and Kalimantan or just flying in on direct commercial flights including from Turkey to attend jihadist training camps, when Marawi happened it still caught many off guard.




For the four Australian Federal Police agents who flew out to sprawling Davao City in the Philippines southern province of Mindanao in September last year, their brief was simple.


Provide 28 Filipino senior counterparts with high-level training on counter terrorism intelligence gathering, the signs to look for, analysis of social media and review the latest information available on the movement of foreign Islamic State fighters.


The course did not take place that next day.


The night before it was to be held, along Roxas Avenue in the city’s central business district night markets, an improvised explosive device was detonated killing 15 people and wounding 70 others.


Two of the AFP members, instead of lecturing in a classroom, joined Filipino counterparts in actively investigating the bombing, their involvement later praised by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.


It became apparent the Davao bombing was not part of the regular three decades of violence in Mindanao by secessionist and or Muslim groups, with the strategy and bomb making hinting at overseas influence and an alignment between groups.


But still ISIS on South East Asia’s doorstep felt more like rumour or the bragging by a desperate militant until Marawi and specifically the discovery of a mobile phone.


On it was a video where Filipino militant Isnilon Hapilon, who receives instructions directly from ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, could be seen literally drawing out a battle plan to capture a city and inspire Islamic revolution across the region in much the same way ISIS had captured Raqqa and Mosul.


Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Australian intelligence agent involved in the counter terrorism fight said events in the Philippines were long viewed as the greatest threat to regional security but the phone clip was proof.


“Mindanao is of far greater concern as a magnet for extremism than what has happened say in London or Manchester but it has got little attention here,” he said.


“I get the colonial ties and all but what’s happening in the Philippines is a seven and a half-hour flight from Sydney, it’s in our backyard but we talk more about what has happened over there (UK) than what is happening here, front and centre of Australia.”


ASIO and ASIS last year deployed resources across the region to analyse the marked threat in extremism but also the erosion of secular sentiment, particularly in Indonesia, in favour of Muslim militancy that threatens to evolve into something more. The AFP has also taken a lead in counter terrorism in the Philippines, performing in joint investigations and 15 counter-terrorism training courses in the past 12 months, their biggest commitment since 2004 when a whole squad was dispatched in 2004 in the post- 9/11 terror probes wash-up. It earlier this year also brought Filipino counter terrorism chiefs together with counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia to create joint strategies to tackle ISIS, a second meeting slated for later this year.


Now the Australian Defence Force is also looking at how it can help. Two RAAF P3 Orion surveillance aircraft have already performed missions over Marawi for Filipino ground troops and Defence Minister Marise Payne has told News Corp the ADF stood by to do more if requested, including looking at training Filipino soldiers in urban warfare tactics. The US has also provided technical military advisers and weapons, China has also provided weapons and Russia has pledged unspecific assistance.



Rumors are carried by haters
Spread by fools
Accepted by idiots

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Anyone wanting a general idea of the tactics and method ISIS is using should read any literature centered on stories of the men and women who fought against the Soviet Army, KGB and KHAD, during the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan.   

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