The commander of U.S. Pacific forces said Wednesday that ISIS-linked militants returning from the Middle East are intent on opening a new front in Asia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Adm. Harry Harris used the battle in the southern Philippines as a prime example. He warned that the militants may be losing ground in Syria and Iraq, but their supporters are still willing to fight.
“Marawi is a wake-up call for every nation in the Indo-Asia Pacific,” he told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “These terrorists are using combat tactics that we’ve seen in the Middle East to kill in the city of Marawi, in Mindanao, the first time ISIS-inspired forces have banded together to fight on this kind of scale.”
About 500 gunmen, including several foreign fighters, stormed the lakeside city of 200,000 people, occupied buildings, burned schools and hoisted Islamic State group-style black flags on May 23.
Faced by his worst crisis, President Rodrigo Duterte responded by declaring martial law in the south and ordering a massive offensive.
The fighting has forced more than 300,000 people to abandon their homes in Marawi and outlying towns and flee to evacuation centers, which rapidly became overcrowded.
Harris said militants are attempting to indoctrinate people in the town. He called on Muslim leaders to attempt to confront the threat.
“We can counter violent extremists organizations like ISIS collaborating with regional allies and partners that may have elements in their countries sympathetic to ISIS’s cause,” he said.