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“I don’t know why my cousin joined, but it’s happening all over.” The group first made a big push for southern Philippines recruitment in 2016, circulating videos online beckoning militants who could not travel to its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Hundreds of fighters poured in from as far away as Chechnya, Somalia and Yemen, intelligence officials said.

“This is a serious matter that needs to be looked at more deeply because the threat is not just local.

It’s maybe coming from outside, from Isis.” For decades, local insurgencies like Abu Sayyaf, which launched a campaign of bombings and beheadings, have thrived in the lawless wilderness and seas stretching toward Malaysia and Indonesia.

What is left is a tiny village in southeast Syria that could fall any day.

But far from defeated, the movement has sprouted elsewhere.

Forensic investigators were kept from the crime scene for days. “We are asking for an independent investigation because it was too quick, too soon to say it’s a closed case,” said Jefferson Nadua, a parish priest.

But even as the military offensive intensifies, the government avoids conceding that the Philippines is in the global slipstream of Islamic extremism.

Top officials have played down incidents in which Islamic State has sent foreign fighters and financing to the Philippines for deadly attacks.

“Isis is the most complicated, evolving problem for the Philippines today, and we should not pretend that it doesn’t exist because we don’t want it to exist.” Since the January 27th cathedral bombing on the island of Jolo, the Philippine military has responded with air strikes and 10,000 soldiers in Jolo, according to Col Gerry Besana, spokesman for the regional military command in the city of Zamboanga.

US surveillance drones monitor the southern Philippine archipelago, where the nation’s Muslim minority is concentrated and local insurgencies have long battled the Christian-majority state.

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