“I hope the government will act wisely and prudently in order to avoid a bloodbath.” The words are those of PIME missionary Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, who is referring in particular to the abduction of Father Teresito Soganub, together with 15 other Christians, in the last few days in the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.
Just a week ago Islamic jihadist extremists of the so-called Maute group seized control of the town. The dramatic clashes between Islamist rebels and the Filipino army have so far claimed some 100 lives and there are reports of barbarous killings and beheadings by the Islamist group.
In a telephone interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father D’Ambra explained how the Islamist terrorists had abducted the Christians and set fire to the cathedral. “Probably, their intention is to use the captives as bargaining chips in order to persuade the army to withdraw,” he said.
The Maute group is affiliated with ISIS, to which it has pledged allegiance, the reason why it is now flying the black ISIS flag in the overwhelmingly Muslim city of Marawi. It is now becoming clear that members of the Islamist terror group Abu Sayyaf were also involved in this most recent attack.
Jihadism is on the rise in the country. Militants have succeeded in attracting new recruits, partly through ideology but also through the promise of lavish rewards. Father D’Ambra also mentioned “international interests that are seeking to destabilize this region. There appears to be a plan, which will continue in the same direction. The situation in Marawi will calm down before too long, but the terrorism will not stop.”
Radical Islamic terrorism has a long history on the island of Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf group was widely in action. The radicalization has continued since then with the proliferation of Islamist movements of Wahhabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia. Also, for a decade or so there has been a strong and growing presence of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah, which originated in Indonesia. And in the last three years ISIS has found increasing support on Mindanao.
Just as in Marawi, in Zamboanga City, on the western tip of Mindanao—where in 2013 the terrorist Islamist paramilitary group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) destroyed half the city—the government has also declared martial law. “The authorities are calling on us to remain vigilant. Among other things the city lies on the coast, with many miles of coastline and numerous islands where the extremists can easily hide,” said Father D’Ambra.
Father D’Ambra himself has been living in the Philippines for 40 years and is the founder of the Silsilah movement, which has been striving since 1984 to promote interfaith dialogue. It has the support of part of the local Muslim community. “Incidents like what has happened in Marawi can only further aggravate a situation that is already complicated enough and make still more difficult the promotion of interreligious dialogue,” he concluded.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS);www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)