Shortly after sunrise on July 31, soldiers at a military checkpoint outside Lamitan City in the Philippines’ Basilan province were hailed over to inspect a white 10-seat van suspected of bearing an improvised explosive device. Moments later, the bomb in the vehicle detonated, killing at least 10 people. Among the dead were four civilians, including women and a child.
The brief interactions between the van’s driver and soldiers prior to the blast suggested that the driver was a foreigner, incapable of responding to the soldiers’ questions in the local dialect. The Islamic State soon claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq News Agency, stating that a Moroccan national had carried out the “martyrdom operation.” As Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted, the attack represented the first time that the Islamic State had “claimed a foreign fighter was involved in an attack in the Philippines in official statements.” Among other things, the attack spotlights the question of what kind of person might be responsible for terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia.
There is little research to date elucidating the demographics of typical members of Southeast Asian jihadist groups who may carry out or support attacks like the Lamitan City bombing. This article is designed to advance the state of knowledge about Southeast Asian jihadism by drawing on original research into the demographic characteristics of 242 Southeast Asia-based jihadists. While there are limitations to the representativeness of demographic information derived from open sources, which will be discussed subsequently, having a larger amount of data on the phenomenon can aid in better assessing the plausibility of existing hypotheses about jihadism in the region. This article first describes the methodology that we employed in gathering data about Southeast Asian jihadists, then turns to our major findings about the militants’ sex and age, nationality and place of activity, kinship ties, propensity for prison radicalization, and place of origin.