How pro-ISIS fighters recruited Filipino youth for Marawi siege

Natashya Gutierrez

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How pro-ISIS fighters recruited Filipino youth for Marawi siege


Through messaging app Telegram, and by targeting university campuses in Mindanao, pro-ISIS fighters successfully convince Muslim youth to join their ranks in Marawi and contribute financially to the cause

MANILA, Philippines – The fighting in Marawi continues to rage on two months since it began on May 23, fueled by loyal pro-ISIS followers who are ready to die for their cause. 

Among those fighting alongside local pro-ISIS terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group are foreign fighters from the region – an estimated 20 from Indonesia – and local Muslim youth. 

In a report  titled “Marawi, the ‘East Asia Wilayah’ and Indonesia” released by Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict on Friday, July 2, IPAC describes how Muslim youth in Mindanao were recruited to engage in fighting. (READ: Marawi inspired, strengthened pro-ISIS fighters in region – report)

“Throughout 2016, recruitment in the name of ISIS reportedly took place across university campuses in Mindanao, including through Muslim student associations and their alumni at Catholic institutions as well as at state universities and polytechnic institutes,” the report said, citing an interview with a senior military officer in Cotabato in October 2016.

The report said that anger at the “alleged brutality and corruption of Philippine security services was reportedly a common theme.”

To recruit the youth, pro-ISIS fighters used social media, and in one posting on Telegram, they tried to appeal to the youth for a state that:

  • Implements Shariah
  • Implements Jizya
  • Implements Hudud
  • Abolishes borders
  • Not participant in UN
  • Not participant in world financial system
  • Fights Israel and world superpowers
  • Frees the prisoners
  • Bans musical instruments
  • Bans adultery
  • Bans drugs and alcohol
  • Enforces good business practices
  • Has a gold standard currency
  • Bans public shirk [idolatry]
  • Destroys idols
  • Levels graves
  • Removes usury banks
  • Destroys nationalism and racism
  • ban smoke confiscated [sic]

It is the same messaging used to recruit their counterparts from other parts of the world.

In the Philippines, “many of those recruited were reportedly devout youth from well-off families with the ability to contribute substantially to the cause,” the report said.

Once won over, new recruits were asked to take the oath of loyalty and instructed to open a bank account, according to the report. (READ: Via Telegram, Western Union: How ISIS in Syria funded Marawi terrorists)

An ATM card would then be given to the treasurer of the local cell, who often holds more than one ATM card at a given time.

Social media

On Tuesday, May 23, clashes between the military and local pro-ISIS terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group, erupted in the capital of Lanao del Sur province. This, after the military moved to hunt down Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who had been spotted in the city. 

The military said the raid served to foil a terror plan to seize Marawi City. Ongoing fighting has claimed the lives of military, rebels, and civilians, and prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.

The report added that the ongoing fighting in Marawi continued to inspire others, as they documented their successes on social media, specifically Telegram. (READ: Maute Group waves ISIS black flag on Marawi streets)

“As with other ISIS-inspired or directed operations, one of the immediate imperatives of the ISIS coalition was to document and post its triumphal takeover of Marawi on ISIS media,” the report said.

Below is a sample conversation on Telegram when Marawi was first attacked by pro-ISIS fighters. According to the report, the names used on Telegram have been altered but the postings are written as it in the following conversation: 

Non-Filipino: Have they taken the city Marawi?      

Maute fighter: Assalamualaikum [then in Tagalog:] My brothers/sisters in the Caliphate here in Lanao del Sur, let’s unite to raise the flag of tawheed in the Philippines                     

Non-Filipino: Translation?                        

Maute fighter: We did taken the city                        

Non-Filipino: Is that confirmed via Amaaq?                        

Maute fighter: No not yet. But inshaallah our brother and sister will declare it. […]      

Non-Filipino: How big is the city? Like big as the city of Kirkuk?                        

Maute fighter: Not so big. We burned the school created by the americans.                        

Non-Filipino: Isnt those old photos from yesterday?                        

Maute fighter: Update #ISRANAO #PHILIPPINES Assalamualaikum our brothers in the front line are busy fighting the taghut and murtadeen in Marawi City. As of 6am Manila time, 11 taghut soldiers are wounded. 3 of them died.              

Pakistani participant: #BREAKING: #Islamic State overruns #Marawi city in #Philippines and raises the #Islamic state flag in the central of the city…     

Maute fighter: DAWLATUL ISLAM !!!!!!                                                

Speaker 3: Khilafah troops patrolling on streets of marawi city..philippines!

They continued to update their followers as they moved forward, adding that the Philippine military “ran like pigs with their filthy blood mixed with the dead bodies of their comrades.” A Maute fighter also claimed they were fighting alongside fighters from Brunei, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan.                   

Maute fighter: We are now in the heart of the islamic city of Marawi.            

Non-Filipino: What happen to the army? They run?                        

Maute fighter: They run like pigs with their filthy blood mix with the dead bodies of their comrades.

Speaker 3: Alhamdulillah  

Non-Filipino: I’m waiting if Amaaq gonna report this                        

Speaker 3:  He will report soon inshallah.

Maute fighter: We occupied the western part of the city. We burned the american established school named Dansalan College midnight around 9pm.                        

Speaker 4: Alhamdulillah…go on, brothers mujahidin. Allah with you all. Any other asean countries join Philippines Crusaders to fight against IS?     

Maute fighter: Yes! china,malaysia,indonesia,japan..  

Speaker 4: Brunei?

Non-Filipino: I watch tv, Brunei send as peacekeeper under kuffur PBB [Indonesian abbreviation for the United Nations] banner  

Maute fighter: Yes Brunei.

Non-Filipino: Yes I saw last year in the local newspaper Brunei, Sweden, asean countries on mission under PBB in Mindanao…                 

Speaker 3: Here we go, Hijrah to Philippines                         

Speaker 4: Door is opening…                        

Speaker 3:  We are coming                        

Speaker 4:  Good idea; all the enemy’s look at Iraq and Suria                        

Eventually, Amaq, ISIS’ propaganda news outlet announced that ISIS had attacked Marawi, and since then, a steady stream of reports were posted from and about Marawi. (READ: ISIS to followers in SE Asia: ‘Go to the Philippines’)

“Through the Telegram groups, Filipino jihadis were creating an international constituency, with their reports from the field translated instantly into English, Tagalog, Arabic, Turkish, German and Indonesian,” the report said.

“The outpouring of information and support showed how much the Marawi jihad had infused individual extremists in the region with a new sense of purpose and how much jihadis around the world were reinforcing them with praise and encouragement.”

Despite their constant reporting on Telegram though, there were some concerns and warnings from administrators to be careful about revealing sensitive information – since it was impossible to know who the other group participants were for sure. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.