28 November 2016, Bombing attempt on US embassy, Philippines, with Jay Heisler

Dec Mon, 2016

On 28 November 2016 a bomb in a trash bin was found outside the US Embassy in Manila in the Philippines, reports the New York Times.

The bomb was comprised of an 81mm mortar connected to a mobile phone. An ordnance disposal team safely detonated it. The trash bin was reportedly as just a few meters from the embassy. The bomb was found by cleaning personnel.

This attack followed a failed bombing of a Manila public park, reports Channel News Asia.

As an aside, the explosive device in this case sounds similar, or nearly identical, to a device that did explode in Davao on 2 September 2016. That bombing killed 14 and wounded 68 (either a 60 or an 81mm jerry-rigged mortar round). A group calling itself “Daulat Ul Islamiya,” (the Islamic State,) claimed responsibility for the Davao blast. Muir Analytics covered this attack here.

Following the trash bin bombing attempt, U.S. embassy communications warned Americans in the Philippines to remain aware of your surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.”

The Manila Times reported that national police declared a “Level 3” terror alert for the entire country – although the exact meaning of this designation and related security measures taken were not specified. The police conducted raids on suspected terrorist safe houses and set up checkpoints, ultimately arresting at least four suspects. One of the arrested was an X-ray technician.

The government blamed the bombing attempt on an organization called Ansar al-Khilafa Philippines, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014. Ansar al-Khilafa Philippines is an ally of the Maute terror group, yet another Philippines-based organization that has pledged support to ISIS.

The government fought a siege against Maute rebels in Lanao del Sur province that ended on 30 November with a reported 30 injured security forces, and 61 Islamists killed.

As Muir Analytics has previously reported, there are several Islamist groups in the Philippines, the most well known being the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Many of them, listed here, have pledged support to ISIS.

Because the embassy attack was a failed bombing attempt where an actual explosive device was deployed and not a foiled attack merely in its planning stages, Muir Analytics considers this episode an attack. Accordingly, this would be, at the very least, the fifth ISIS or ISIS-inspired/affiliated attack in Southeast Asia, so say open sources. The other ISIS related attacks were:*

*There have been several clashes with security forces in the Philippines and Indonesia with groups linked to ISIS, but the attacks listed here are considered “classic” terror attacks. Muir Analytics might adjust this list later to include a wider category of ISIS related operations.

There are five takeaways here. First, the US embassy bomb failed, apparently not because of its construction, but because it was detected, indicating a lack of bombing placement expertise by Ansar al-Khilafa Philippines. A more efficient attack would have gotten the device closer to the embassy and achieved detonation. (The failed park bomb, apparently by the same group, failed for the same reasons.)

Second, the quick arrests of those responsible for the embassy bombing attempt, if the arrests are legitimate, indicates a lack of operational security on behalf of Ansar al-Khilafa Philippines. Either informants snitched on the group, or the bombers were discovered by CCTV or counter surveillance teams, or by some similar action by Philippine law enforcement and related security entities.

Third, despite these technical failings, five ISIS related attacks in Southeast Asia (two of them in the Philippines) in 2016 indicate that ISIS and its affiliates have made real inroads into this region. Unless there is a concerted effort by regional governments to dramatically increase their anti-ISIS activities – including counter narrative operations, regional intelligence sharing, and coalition counter terror operations – ISIS can be expected to expand its foothold and increase attacks.

It is entirely possible ISIS might increase the lethality of its operations as well by duplicating a 2002 Bali style bombing or a Mumbai 2008 type attack. Regional ISIS actors are surely under pressure from “central ISIS” coordinators in the Middle East to better their performance.

Related to point three, a yardstick of the future prowess of ISIS affiliates such as Ansar al-Khilafa won’t just be their capacity for violence, but their ability to maintain territory.

Fourth, and looking ahead, the arrest of an x-ray technician working for a terror group affiliated with ISIS is troubling, especially regarding the potential for radiological or “dirty” bombs.

Fifth, if ISIS affiliates increase their operations, then President Duterte will certainly launch additional campaigns against them. The potential for tit-for-tat terror attacks, increased casualties, and widened counter terror campaigns is probable.

Sources and further reading:

NCRPO presents third suspect in US embassy bomb try,” Philippine Star, 8 December 2016.

Third suspect in US Embassy bomb scare arrested,” Inquirer, 4 December 2016.

Nation under terror alert,” Manila Times, 2 December 2016.

Philippines raises terror alert after foiled Manila bomb plot,” Channel News Asia, 1 December 2016.

Philippines ends five-day siege against rebels pledged to Islamic State,” Reuters, 30 November 2016.

Bomb defused near US Embassy linked to Maute group: officials,” Business World, 29 November 2016.

Manila police safely detonate suspected bomb near US Embassy,” Philippine Star, 28 November 2016.

Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Improvised Explosive Device Disabled near U.S. Embassy,” US Embassy, Philippines, 28 November 2016.

Manila Police Detonate Improvised Bomb Near US Embassy,” New York Times, 27 November 2016.

Mumbai Terror Attacks Fast Facts,” CNN, 24 November 2016.

Terror Grows in Southern Philippines From Militants Linked to Islamic State,” Wall Street Journal, 18 November 2016.

Philippines: IS-linked Maute group inmates freed in ‘raid’,” BBC, 28 August 2016.

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