Motives and Behaviours of Violent Extremist Groups: Violent Extremism in the Philippines

Motives and Behaviours of Violent Extremist Groups: Violent Extremism in the Philippines

The Philippines is currently ranked #9 on the Global Terrorism Index and has been impacted by a number of extremist groups in the last few years.

  • Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
  • Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)
  • Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP)
  • Maute Group


In recent years, these groups have continued to train and recruit new members and carry out suicide bombings and other attacks.  

  • Battle of Marawi

Much of the conflict that occurs in the Philippines occurs in the south. Islamic extremists have been active in the Muslim-majority south for years. The conflict reached its peak in 2017 during the Battle of Marawi, a five-month long siege between the Filipino military and members of ASG and the Maute group. The jihadists were attempting to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines. 

Recent strides towards peace, including the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM) will hopefully continue to reduce the amount of violence going forward. However, resistance to resolution is ongoing and so must the Filipino government’s efforts to counter violent extremism. 

“The conflict in Mindanao has created a constantly shifting landscape of violence in which ideological and criminal motives often blur together.” –UNDP, 2020

  • Jolo Bombings 

In January 2019, a suicide bombing took place during Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu.  23 people were killed and 102 wounded.  

On August 24, 2020, two ASG suicide bombers again attacked people in Jolo, killing 15 and wounding 75. The first explosion went off near the town plaza where army personnel were carrying out Covid humanitarian efforts. The second exploded near Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral the same church that had been targeted the year before. 

  • Other Recent Attacks 
  • June 28, 2019. Two men engaged in a suicide attack against a military unit. 8 were killed and at least 20 were wounded.
  • September 8, 2019. A woman conducted a suicide attack in front of a Sulu military camp.
  • October 4, 2019. Two British citizens were kidnapped in Zamboanga del Sur by members of ASG. They were recovered on November 25, 2019. 
  • November 5, 2019. Terrorist groups abducted Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, and British victims in Sulu. 


In July 2019, the Philippines finalized a National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism. Furthermore, CVE training was created and implemented for the security sector and civil servants. Efforts to rehabilitate former extremists are in place as well. The Armed Forces of the Philippines assists with this process and they also push for defections from the ASG, BIFF, and the Maute group. 


  • “Country Reports on Terrorism 2019: Philippines.” US Department of State. June 24, 2020.  
  • “State of Violence: Government Responses to Violent Extremism in South-East Asia.” UNDP. 2020.
  • “Philippines: Twin explosions hit Jolo, killing at least 14.” BBC News. August 24, 2020.
  • Betteridge-Moes, Maxine. “What happened in Marawi?” Al Jazeera. October 29, 2017.
  • “Jolo church attack: Many killed in Philippines.” BBC News. January 27, 2019.