TERRORISM activities and deaths have risen significantly since 2002 in Asia Pacific according to a new report, with the Philippines hardest hit by political violence in the region.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2017 by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) ranked the Philippines number 12 worldwide, making it worse affected by terrorism than South Sudan, Bangladesh and Libya. Thailand was close behind, coming in at number 16.
In the Asia-Pacific region – which the report categorises as separate from South Asia – the Philippines, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) had seen the largest increases in terrorist activity over the period since 2002. The three countries accounted for 94 percent of attacks in 2016.
Between 2002 and the end of 2016, the Philippines suffered 3,118 terrorist attacks which resulted in the deaths of some 2,453 people. By far, the largest number of these attacks were undertaken by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
More than 900 attacks were executed by the NPA between 2002 and 2016 which resulted in over 600 fatalities. The group has also markedly stepped up its activities since 2012.
Earlier in November, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his intention to declare the NPA a terrorist organisation, along with left-wing groups alleged to be cooperating with communist rebels. It is already recognised as such by the United States and the European Union.
“Let’s just go to war,” Duterte said. “I am no longer available for any official talk.”
The other most active terror groups in the Philippines were predominantly Islamic militant organisations – including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Moro Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Jemaah Islamiyah.
The Islamic-state inspired Maute group – which fought the Philippines armed forces in Marawi City, Mindanao between May and October 2017 resulting in more than 1,000 deaths – was also responsible for some attacks prior to 2016.
An IEP spokesperson, Zoe Davies, told Asian Correspondent that the impact of the Marawi clash would be reflected in next year’s report.
Religious extremist groups are increasingly posing a major risk in the Philippines, particularly as nearly US$600,000 was transferred from Islamic State in central in Iraq and Syria to fund fighting in Marawi between May and October 2017.
The military defeat of IS in the Middle East has led experts to fear greater focus on targeting Southeast Asia.
The Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research chairman Prof Rommel Banlaoi told Asian Correspondent in October that the country should “expect retaliatory attacks from remaining leaders (of pro-Islamic State groups).”
Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict director Sidney Jones recently warned that a failure to adequately rebuild Marawi City could lead to further radicalisation of younger generations.
Since 2002, meanwhile, Malay Muslim separatist groups have reignited their insurgency against Thailand’s army. It is a conflict that had claimed more than 6,400 lives and injured 12,000 more by the end of 2016, according to Deep South Watch.
Neighbouring Burma (Myanmar) saw 196 terrorist attacks from 2002 and 2016 which resulted in 219 deaths, primarily launched by ethnic minority militant groups such as the Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, according to IEP.
The report notes the emergence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which killed around 30 people in August attacks against army and police outposts in Burma’s Rakhine State – however, these attacks are not included in the data.
In contrast, other Asia-Pacific countries Mongolia, North Korea and Papua New Guinea were all ranked 134th, as there had not been a terrorist incident in the last five years.
Deadly South Asia
The Global Terrorism Index notes that South Asia had the “highest impact from terrorism of any region in 2016” with three among the rankings’ top ten: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were ranked second, fifth and eighth, respectively. In this region, civilians and police are the primary targets.
Between 2002 to 2016, the region had a “marked increase” in terrorism deaths from 883 to 5,949. This period was marked by United States’ war in Afghanistan and the emergence of new violent extremist forces, including the rise of Islamic State.
Nepal and Sri Lanka, however, had seen significant decreases in terrorist activity – partly explained by the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009.
Worldwide, four groups were responsible for 59 percent of terrorist deaths: Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Taliban.