Posts Tagged ‘Maute’

US pledges $26.5M to Philippines for counterterrorism

July 19, 2018
( – July 19, 2018 – 9:59am

MANILA, Philippines — The United States government has vowed to provide $26.5 million to assist the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts.

The US Embassy said that the assistance will be given to Philippine law enforcement agencies over the next two years.

“The assistance will include training, equipment, and other support to build comprehensive law enforcement capacity within a rule of law framework to deny terrorist operations, funding, and movement,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

The Philippines has been fighting Islamic State-inspired terrorist groups like the Maute group, which laid siege to Marawi City from May to October in 2017. It has also been conducting operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front in parts of Maguindanao and against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The US government will contribute $26.5 million over the next two years to boost counterterrorism support for Philippine law enforcement agencies.

Miguel de Guzman

The government has also declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army as terrorist groups.

The aid from the US will also cover investigations and prosecutions on terrorism cases, as well as counter radicalization to violence and violent extremism.

“This support for non-military rule-of-law approaches to addressing terrorist threats will complement our sustained commitment to building the counterterrorism capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” the embassy statement read.

This would not be the first time that the US provided support to the Duterte administration’s law enforcement efforts.

In 2016, Washington provided $32 million in training and services to Philippine law enforcement.

In the same year, the American government shifted its assistance away from law enforcement following reports of extrajudicial killings in the conduct of the Duterte administration’s crackdown against illegal drugs.

The US Department of State admitted that law enforcement assistance has been refocused to maritime security efforts and to provide human rights training to the Philippine National Police. — Patricia Lourdes Viray



Philippines arrests suspected pro-IS militant over siege

March 5, 2018

March 5, 2017


© AFP/File | Hundreds of gunmen flying black IS flags seized the southern city of Marawi in May last year triggering a five-month battle with Philippine troops that claimed more than 1,100 lives

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine police announced on Monday the arrest of a suspected pro-Islamic State jihadist accused of killing civilians in last year’s deadly siege of the southern city of Marawi.Hundreds of gunmen flying black IS flags seized Marawi in May last year, triggering a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives, in a bid to establish a caliphate in the largely Catholic country.

Nasser Lomondot was arrested on Saturday in Manila, months after he fled the fighting in Marawi.

“He participated in the killing of innocent civilians and committed violence against female and child hostages,” regional military spokesman Major Ronald Suscano told reporters.

As government forces battled to wrest back control of Marawi, Lomondot directed a diversionary attack by pro-IS gunmen in the neighbouring town of Marantao, Suscano added.

Above, weapons and Daesh flags recovered from militants during an encounter with Philippine military forces in Sultan Kudarat on the southern island of Mindanao in this November 26, 2015 photo. Hundreds of Daesh gunmen seized Marawi in May last year, triggering a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives. (AFP)

“He was one of the key planners of the attack in Marantao town …while the firefight was still ongoing” in Marawi, Suscano said.

Lomondot was arrested with a second pro-IS suspect, Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said in a statement.

The Philippine military warned last month that the remaining militants from Marawi have mustered a force of about 200 gunmen to launch a second attempt to put up a caliphate in the country’s south.


Looted cash, gold helps Islamic State recruit in Philippines

January 23, 2018


By Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Islamist insurgents looted cash, gold and jewelery worth tens of millions of dollars when they occupied a southern Philippines town last year, treasure one of their leaders has used to recruit around 250 fighters for fresh attacks.

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Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS – Romeo Ranoco

The military said Humam Abdul Najib escaped from Marawi City, which the militants had hoped to establish as a stronghold for Islamic State in Southeast Asia, before it was recaptured by the military in October after five months of ferocious battles and aerial bombardment.

Since then, Najib, also known as Abu Dar, has used the booty looted from bank vaults, shops and homes in Marawi to win over boys and young men in the impoverished southern province of Lanao del Sur, military officers in the area said. Hardened mercenaries are also joining, lured by the promise of money.

As a result, Islamic State followers remain a potent threat in Southeast Asia even though hundreds of militants were killed in the battle for Marawi, the officers said.

“Definitely they haven’t abandoned their intent to create a caliphate in Southeast Asia,” Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, told Reuters.

“That’s the overall objective, but in the meantime while they are still trying to recover and build up again – fighters and weapons – our estimate is they are going to launch terrorist attacks.”

On Saturday, militants wounded eight soldiers in two attacks in Lanao del Sur, Brawner said, the first such violence since the recapture of Marawi.

In the early days of the occupation of Marawi last May, as black-clad fighters burned churches, released prisoners and cut the power supply, other militants targeted banks and the homes of wealthy citizens, commandeering hostages to help with the plunder.

“It was in the first week. They divided us into three groups with seven people each,” said J.R. Montesa, a Christian construction worker who was captured by the militants.

Using explosives, the militants blew open the vaults of the city’s three main banks, Landbank, the Philippine National Bank and the Al Amanah Islamic Bank, Montesa told Reuters in a town near Marawi. They trucked away the booty, easily slipping out of Marawi because a security cordon was not fully in place.

Image result for Al Amanah Islamic Bank, photos

They also raided jewellery stores, pawnshops and businesses.

Landbank and Al Amanah did not respond to requests for comment. Philippine National said recovering losses because of the Marawi fighting was a concern, but did not give details.

The Islamic celebration of Ramadan was looming at the time the militants struck and banks, businesses and homes had more money than usual, said Marawi City police chief Ebra Moxsir. The Maranaos, the ethnic group that dominates the area around Marawi, are mostly Muslims.

“There was a lot of money inside the battle area,” he told Reuters. “Maranaos keep millions of pesos in safety vaults in their homes. Gold, also. It is a tradition of the Maranao to give gifts of money (during Ramadan).”

Montesa said vans they loaded with the spoils of the raids were “overflowing”, with money, gold and other valuables stuffed into every crevice of the vehicles.

“They were saying it was a gift from Allah. They would say ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest) while we were stealing.”


The military and police have also been accused by rights groups and by Marawi residents of looting during the conflict.

Brawner said a small number of soldiers had been disciplined for looting but the practice was not widespread.

However, the centre of Marawi – home to its major banks, main market and grandest residences – was under the control of militants for months.

Brawner said authorities were unclear exactly how much was taken by the militants.

 Image result for Community leaders survey damaged houses and buildings inside war-torn Marawi, Philippines January 13, 2018, photos

Community leaders survey damaged houses and buildings inside war-torn Marawi, Philippines January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tom Allard

“It’s hard for us to say. We have heard about 2 billion pesos ($39.4 million) but that’s just an estimate.”

“In the first days, when we were not able to establish that security cordon around the main battle area, that was the time when they were able to slip out with their war booty.”

The government also said the regrouping of militants in Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines that has been marred by Islamic and Communist uprisings for decades, was dangerous.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told Reuters: “There is always the danger of these groups regaining strength enough to mount another Marawi-like operation.”

Najib is believed to have fled Marawi early in the battle. There are conflicting reports about whether he had a dispute with other leaders or left as part of a preconceived plan.

He attempted to return in August with 50-100 more fighters to reinforce the militants, who by then were losing ground, but he was prevented by an improved security cordon, said Brawner.

“According to reports, they were able to recruit another 100 to 150. So the estimate is 250 all in all, and this includes children,” Brawner said. “They are trying to recruit orphans, relatives of the fighters who died and sympathisers.”

Parents of children are offered as much as 70,000 pesos ($1,380) plus a monthly salary of as much as 30,000 pesos ($590) to hand over their sons to the group, according to security sources and community leaders briefed on the recruitment.

The average family income in the Philippines is 22,000 pesos per month, according to a 2015 government survey. It was about half that in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, where Marawi and surrounding areas lie.

Brawner said local residents had told the military that the militant group was also offering bonuses of up to 10,000 pesos ($200) for killing a soldier.

Rommel Banlaoi, a Manila-based security expert, said more experienced fighters had also been recruited. These were “mercenaries” attracted by the payouts, he said, but Najib has also tapped into disaffection among Maranao angered by the destruction of large parts of Marawi by the Philippine military’s bombing campaign.

“That kind of narrative is being used by ISIS to lure people to continue the fight,” Banlaoi said, using an acronym for Islamic State.


With the looted funds and a loyal following, Najib, could become the new “emir” of Islamic State in Southeast Asia following the death of Isnilon Hapilon in the battle for Marawi, security analysts say.

Najib is a hardened fighter and cleric who studied in the Middle East and reportedly trained with militants in Afghanistan, they say.

He co-founded Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao, an insurgent group formed in about 2012 that launched a series of bombings in Mindanao.

“He is a very, very important person because he has been there from the start,” said Banlaoi.

Najib had links to Al Qaeda, which earned him the nickname “al Zarqawi of the Philippines”, a reference to the slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Abu Musab al Zarqawi. AQI morphed into Islamic State, to which Najib pledged allegiance in 2014.

According to Banlaoi, Najib worked closely with Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian militant believed to have died in Marawi who was the key conduit between the Philippines fighters and the Islamic State leadership in Syria and Iraq.

Banlaoi said the recruitment effort by the pro-Islamic State remnants led by Najib was “massive and systematic”.

“If you are well funded, you can do a lot of things.”

Additional reporting by Martin Petty, Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Philippines: 6 soldiers injured in encounter with terrorist Maute group in Lanao del Sur

January 21, 2018
The military said six soldiers were slightly injured from the shrapnel during the firefight. AP/Bullit Marquez, File
ZAMBOANGA CITY — Government troops encountered remnants of ISIS-inspired Maute members that left six soldiers injured Saturday in a village of Masiu town, Lanao del Sur, according to the military.
The troops from Joint Task Force Ranao encountered 10 Maute members at early Saturday morning at Barangay Kalilangan, said Maj. Ronald Suscano, officer-in-charge of the Public Affairs Office of the Army 1st Division, based in Pulacan, Labanga town Zamboanga del Sur.
Suscano said the group which the soldiers encountered were Maute remnants and bombers.
He said the firefight erupted for 35 minutes that prompted the terrorists to withdraw.
Suscano reported that while the terrorists attempted to escape via the lake, the troops were able to sink off two motorboats carrying 10 militants.
The military said six soldiers were slightly injured from the shrapnel during the firefight.
The soldiers also recovered several high-powered weapons including one M203 launcher; two RPGs; three rounds of 60mm RPG; an anti-tank RPG ammunition; three 40mm ammunition; a hand grenade; two RPG fuses; a binocular; an ISIS flag; and several drug paraphernalia.
Suscano said the encounter was the first since the liberation of Marawi City from the Maute group last October 2017.
Maj. Gen. Roseller Murillo, 1st Army Division chief, directed the troops to continue the relentless hunt against the terrorists to prevent them from gaining strength.
“We shall continue to totally eliminate the remaining Daesh-inspired group in Lanao provinces and to sustain our efforts to prevent them establishing ‘Wilayat’ and Daesh ideology in our joint area of operation,” Murillo said in a statement.

Duterte warns of fresh terror threat in the Philippines

January 18, 2018


Debris flies in the air as Philippine Air Force fighter jets bomb suspected locations of militants in the southern city of Marawi on June 9, 2017. Months after “neutralizing” the Daesh-linked militants, the Philippines is again on alert over fresh terror threats in the south. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned of a fresh terror threat against his country.

“Maybe it’s good to anticipate that there’s going to be (a terror attack) in the coming days,” Duterte said in a speech this week, amid reports that an increasing number of foreign fighters are now in the Philippines.

“They’d like to blow up (places where) people converge: In airports, seaports, and parks, because of what happened in the Mindanao provinces,” Duterte added, referring to the defeat of Daesh-backed militants who laid siege to Marawi City in Mindanao for five months last year.

“As I have said, the threat remains,” the president continued, adding: “My advice to our security forces, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police), in this matter of security against terrorism, is that no quarter should be asked, and no quarter given.”

Earlier, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana told the country’s elite special forces to prepare for a possible repeat of the Marawi siege in another city.

Lorenzana admitted authorities are looking into the reported entry of a number of foreign terrorists into the southern Philippines.

Mohaquer Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had previously warned that the defeat of the Maute group in Marawi City does not mean the defeat of Daesh-oriented groups in Mindanao.

“Expect that they will surface once again,” he said.

Talking to Arab News, Iqbal reiterated his statement on the increasing number of foreign fighters in the southern Philippines.

Image result for Marawi, Philippines, mosque, after battle, photos

Marawi after the battles ended

“What has been validated by our side is that there is a continuous inflow of foreign elements that are suspected to be Daesh-connected individuals,” Iqbal said.

The army recently reported they have identified 48 foreign terrorists currently in the Philippines and told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that a number of terrorists had entered the southern Philippines posing as businessmen or tourists.

Iqbal confirmed that MILF’s intelligence backs up the army’s figures, saying, “We have around 90 percent validated (the presence of foreign terrorists). We have reliable reports to that effect.”

Some of those foreign terrorists arrived in the country after the Marawi siege ended in October, he said. Many arrived via the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan, and a number of them are “Caucasian-looking.”

Early this week, an article released by the Asian think tank Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said that the deaths of Filipino militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon — the Daesh-designated emir in Southeast Asia — and Omarkhayam Maute, “have not fundamentally reduced or removed the jihadi threat in the region.”

The article said that there are still four “key leaders” of Southeast Asian extremists: Amin Baco, Bahrumsyah, Abu Turaifie and Bahrun Naim.”

Baco, a Malaysian born in Sabah who built his jihadi credentials fighting in Basilan and Sulu, was reported to have been killed during the Marawi siege. But, on Wednesday, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military was trying to verify information that, although wounded, Baco had managed to escape the Marawi siege and is now in Sulu with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Iqbal said he has no information about Baco’s whereabouts, but that Toraife — commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) — has been regularly moving his location because of a series of military operations against his group.

“Recently he (Toraife) was in North Cotabato,” Iqbal claimed. “But he seems to have transferred from there already. They seem to be on the move constantly.”

However, Iqbal explained that Toraife and his group “are not a major threat at this point in time” as they lack the capacity to launch a major attack similar to the Maute Group’s siege of Marawi.



Philippines Faces Steep Task Rebuilding City Wrested From Islamic Militants

December 10, 2017

Battle for Marawi left southern city ruined and residents displaced, fueling fears of new Islamic insurgency if government doesn’t hold to promises

Part of the Grand Mosque in the southern Philippine city of Marawi was heavily damaged by more than five months of intense airstrikes and firefights between government troops and Islamic State-inspired militants.

MARAWI, Philippines—The Philippine military scored a victory against international extremism when it drove Islamic State-linked fighters from this city in October, but that success is now in peril as the government discovers as many pitfalls in rebuilding Marawi as in liberating it.

The city was decimated in the battle, fought over five months with U.S. surveillance support. The government is now turning to the task of rebuilding and resettling nearly 400,000 people displaced by the fighting, while it pushes for new legislation that would give greater autonomy to marginalized Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost main island, in the hope of deterring future conflict.

How it meets those challenges, residents and community leaders say, will determine whether the victory in Marawi can be a springboard to longer-term peace or end up providing new fervor for an insurgency inspired by Islamic State.

A Philippine government soldier inspecting the destruction caused in Marawi by months of heavy fighting between the military and Islamic militants.

The rebuilding process is beginning to fray before new bricks are laid, as sentiment turns against the government for what many residents see as its heavy-handed use of airstrikes in the campaign to recapture Marawi.

“We hate ISIS, but we also know the one who destroyed our homes, our properties, is the military, by using the airstrikes,” said Agakhan Sharief, a Muslim leader who served as an intermediary in unsuccessful talks between the militants and the government. “If they don’t fulfill what they have promised to the victims of Marawi city, [residents] could be turning to more radicalization.”

Officials say Islamist groups are already seeking to recruit young men from the many refugee camps crowded with people who lost their livelihoods in the battle.

Government soldiers in trucks last month examine the damage caused by months of fighting in the city of Marawi.

The cramped conditions in the camps feed frustration. Fever and flu are rampant and jobs are scarce. Each family is given either an outdoor tent or a tight space in a hall, separated from the next family by a thin piece of shoulder-high plywood. While food and water are provided, privacy is impossible. Many residents own nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they fled.

Much of Marawi remains closed as soldiers sweep for improvised explosives. The city was attacked on May 23 by hundreds of militants funded and inspired by Islamic State, who were joined by dozens of foreign fighters seeking to declare a caliphate, or Islamic kingdom. At least 165 Philippine security personnel and 47 civilians died in the ensuing battle, as well as nearly 1,000 militants.

Aerial bombardment left the city in ruins. The worst-hit area is almost devoid of life, save for wild dogs and mosquitoes. Every building has been severely damaged, with the belongings of former residents strewn on roadsides and hanging from windows.

Some people have been allowed to return to the few reopened parts of the city, only to find rubble where their homes used to be.

Hadj Esmail M. Abaton, 77, returned to his house in late November to find almost everything destroyed. The metal roof had fallen in, charred belongings dotted the floor and broken furniture was rusting away. Like most Marawi residents, the former textiles trader had no insurance.

“When we saw the house we cried because all of our effort and all our belongings are gone,” he said, flanked by four generations of relatives who lived in the house with him. “This is not just a house. This is our roots and all our hard work.”

While Mr. Abaton said he didn’t know who was responsible for destroying his house, his younger relatives blame the military. Found in the rubble were the remains of an artillery shell, a weapon used by the Philippine armed forces but not the militants.

Maisara Palala, 70, resting last month with her disabled son, Tao, 30, inside their makeshift shelter at an evacuation center in the town of Pantar outside Marawi.

A spokesman for the military didn’t directly address queries about public opinion or the airstrikes. The military has defended its use of airstrikes, noting the high-risk nature of close-quarters urban warfare.

Many displaced citizens lack documentation proving ownership of their land and worry it will be taken away when the city is rebuilt, though the government has assured them of fair treatment. Even if they can lay claim to their former homes, the process will take longer than many think, officials say. Millions of tons of rubble will need clearing, a dangerous task in light of the unexploded ordnance and improvised explosives left in structures.

“The reconstruction will take years,” said Felix Castro, a retired general now charged by the government with coordinating reconstruction. “It is very difficult considering the rubble. This is why the civilians are not allowed to return.”

In an interview in the bullet-strafed remains of Marawi’s Grand Mosque, Mr. Castro said the government hasn’t worked out how much the process will cost, though some estimates place it at up to $1.8 billion. He said a master plan for the city’s reconstruction is expected by March. The U.S. has promised $14.5 million in rehabilitation aid.

Dsiplaced Marawi residents living last month under cramped conditions in a makeshift evacuation center in Balo-i, north of Marawi.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,200 temporary shelters are being built for displaced people and more than 2,700 permanent houses are planned, to be funded by an undisclosed private donation.

Some residents say the government failed to heed warnings that the militants’ offensive was looming, such as local radio broadcasts warning of an attack and text messages militants sent urging their families to take shelter. There are signs the government was aware of the threat but didn’t adequately prepare to confront it. In December 2016, more than five months before the battle, President Rodrigo Duterte, in a show of bravado, told a business conference the militants “said that they will go down upon Marawi to burn the place, and I said: ‘go ahead, do it.’”

The government’s spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Recent reports from human-rights groups about soldiers torturing or executing civilians have further fanned hostility toward the liberators. The military said it welcomes any probe and doesn’t tolerate rights violations.

Some displaced Marawi residents working last month to build temporary shelters outside the city.

Underlying this broad distrust are decades of marginalization of the minority Muslim population of the southern Philippines by successive governments, including the colonial authorities of Spain and the U.S., which governed the country successively for about 350 years.

That experience spawned dozens of separatist groups before the recent wave of violent extremists inspired by Islamic State. Once-violent older groups that have rejected the extremists, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, have sought peace in exchange for autonomous government.

An agreement on self-rule for the small majority-Muslim part of the country has been reached, but the Philippine Congress has been slow to pass the necessary legislation. MILF leaders warn they could lose control over their fighters if the legislation doesn’t pass.

The battle with Islamic State-linked groups has moved to marshlands south of Marawi, where MILF and government troops are allied in a firefight against militants who either didn’t join the battle in Marawi or escaped it.

Mr. Duterte has urged lawmakers to move fast on the legislation granting self-rule to the Muslim regions. If it doesn’t pass soon, he said in October, “we are headed for trouble.”

A government soldier takes in Marawi’s destruction.

Write to Jake Maxwell Watts at

Trump, Fellow Populist Duterte to Meet as U.S.-Philippine Relations Improve

November 12, 2017

Two leaders to discuss renewal of U.S.-Philippines alliance

MANILA, Philippines—President Rodrigo Duterte meets Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, carrying with him a longstanding animosity toward America that has been tempered by Mr. Trump’s implicit support of his war on drugs and by U.S. help in crushing Islamic State-backed fighters who occupied a southern city.

The firebrand Filipino lobbed repeated verbal attacks at the U.S. when he took office in June 2016, swiftly clashing with then-President Barack Obama on human-rights issues. Relations improved under Mr. Trump, who…

Islamic State in Southeast Asia Leader Identified

November 6, 2017
Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco has assumed the position of “emir” or chieftain of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed Southeast Asia wing, according to an arrested Indonesian comrade.

MANILA, Philippines — Extremist militant Amin Baco, a Malaysian, assumed the leadership of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia after Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon was neutralized in Marawi, police said.

“Amin Baco has replaced Isnilon Hapilon as leader in Southeast Asia,” Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa revealed at Monday’s televised press briefing.

Citing information from arrested suspected terrorist Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, Dela Rosa said that Baco is leading, “not only the remaining stragglers [from the Marawi siege], but the rest of the Southeast Asia ISIS group.”

The police chief said that they also have received information that Baco has left the main battle area, but he stressed that the police has yet to verify it. “That is still raw information,” Dela Rosa said.

The government forces have been on the lookout of Baco since November 3.

Abu Sayyaf leader Hapilon and Omar Maute were designated as leaders of a joint coalition of Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Southeast Asia that laid siege on Marawi City, in May this year.

The group has been identified as an affiliate of a weakening Islamic State in the Middle East.

Both Hapilon and Maute were killed by military troops on October 16.

Syahputra was drone operator

On Monday, Dela Rosa also presented arrested Syahputra to the media. He was nabbed by authorities on November 1, and was placed under the custody of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group on November 2.

Dela Rosa said that, upon investigation, Syahputra admitted to have worked with Baco.

He said Syahputra admitted to operating five drones for “intelligence purposes, surveillance of government troops.”

“He is drone operator because he was claiming to be an I.T. graduate so he can join the ISIS,” Dela Rosa said.

Dela Rosa, however, refused to divulge more information the police received due to the sensitive nature of the interrogation.

Marawi City in the country’s south was left in ruins following the six-month urban battle between state forces and Islamic militants. The government is faced with the complicated task of rebuilding the city as displaced residents and businesses try to return to normalcy.

Philippines: Fears of another Marawi as Islamic State militants regroup, plan suicide bombings

November 5, 2017

By Amy Chew
Channel News Asia

In the first of a three-part series on the changing security situation in the southern Philippines, Channel NewsAsia’s Amy Chew looks at the possibility that Islamic extremists could be regrouping to fight new battles.

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Government soldiers stand in front of damaged houses and buildings in Marawi city, Philippines, Oct 25, 2017. (Photo: Reuters / Romeo Ranoco)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines: It was mid-morning when two cars suddenly drove up and parked next to each other outside Notre Dame University, one of the oldest universities in Cotabato City.

Eight to 10 young men came out of the cars. One of them draped the black flag of Islamic State (IS) behind his back and walked up and down the street together with his friends.

“It was like a parade to show off the flag. People stopped to stare at them,” a local resident who witnessed the incident told Channel NewsAsia.

“The parade lasted about 10 minutes before they returned to their cars and drove off,” said the resident, who declined to be named.

The incident last month unnerved the community and left people worried that pro-IS groups on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines may be trying to stage another Marawi-style attack to take over a city.

“I must plan for an exit strategy, like get a job in another city in case the worst happens,” said the resident.

On May 23, pro-IS groups led by the Maute Group, founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, and Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attacked Marawi, located some 155km away from Cotabato City.

It took the Philippine military five months before it could seize control of the city from the militants on Oct 17.

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Philippine marines from the Marine Battalion Landing Team stand to attention during their arrival from Marawi at port area in metro Manila, Philippines October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

The siege killed more than 1,100 people, including 920 militants, 47 civilians and 165 troops, and displaced another 400,000 people.

Both Maute brothers and Isnilon were also killed.

But that has not ended the battle against militants in the region as those who have escaped have raised concerns where they have resettled. Among those cities where militants have sought refuge is the southern city of Cotabato.


Concerns about the threat of spreading violence in the southern Philippines have been raised across the region, with comments from Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam typical of what has been said.

“You’ve got the situation in Marawi, you’ve got the situation in Rakhine State (in Myanmar), and it’s going to attract fighters, extremists, would-be terrorists to go to these places to fight,” he said in September. “And once they come to this region, then they will try to spread out to other targets too,” he added.

Analysts believe that while the situation in Marawi has been brought under control by the Philippine military, the threat is far from over.

“Cotabato City is in serious trouble. It is badly infiltrated by pro-IS groups,” said Professor Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“Many of the (IS) escapees from Marawi, including one Maute brother, are being sheltered in Cotabato City where they are actively recruiting new recruits,” Prof Banlaoi added.

The Marawi siege exposed the depth of IS penetration into southern Philippines, where it plans to set up a Southeast Asia caliphate.

Former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants told Channel NewsAsia in an interview that Mindanao is the only place in ASEAN where IS can carve out a wilayat, or province, given its porous borders, large ungoverned spaces and abundant guns, ammunitions and explosive materials available for sale in the black market.


“The pro-IS groups are trying to stage another Marawi-style attack in other cities. They have lots of money to fund more attacks as they looted billions of pesos from Marawi during the siege,” a senior security source told Channel NewsAsia.

Residents of Marawi typically do not trust banks and many of them stash their cash in vaults kept in their homes, according to the source.

“The money was looted from the vaults installed in the homes of individuals and there were many of them,” the source added.

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Bombed-out buildings in Marawi after the siege AFP/TED ALJIBE

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said IS gave the Maute group at least US$1.5 million for the Marawi siege.

As IS loses territory in the Middle East, its funds are expected to dwindle and some believe it will not have the same resources to fund attacks in Philippines.

But according to the security source, money and weapons looted from the Marawi siege are “more than enough” for IS groups to stage terror attacks in the Philippines.

“IS groups have more than enough money. They also receive funds from wealthy individuals in the country. Not only that, they also looted weapons from Marawi so they do have weapons as well,” the security source added.

While it would be difficult for the IS groups to take over an entire city like in Marawi, they have the capacity to take over parts of a city, according to the security source.

“I also expect IS-inspired lone wolves to target Metro Manila for attacks,” the source added.


Inside buildings abandoned by IS militants in Marawi city, the military is finding a treasure trove of information on terror plots outlined in documents left behind by the militants.

“I am looking at three major scenarios based on confiscated documents found in various buildings in Marawi city,” said Prof Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“One of the activities they (IS) want is to promote suicide bombings by lone wolves, the use of IEDS (improvised explosive device) and the use of fire bombs,” added Prof Banlaoi.

“The targets for attacks are Davao City, the hometown of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, to send a message of “retaliation,” he said. “The other targets are the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, General Santos City and Zamboanga.”

Apart from recruitment, IS groups are also focusing on conducting training, particularly for bomb-making, he said.


As urban dwellers brace for possible IS-inspired attacks, heavy clashes are taking place in the jungle marshlands in Maguindanao province between IS and the military.

Maguindanao is located just outside of Cotabato city. The military has joined forces with its former enemy, the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest armed group in Mindanao, to fight against the IS groups.

Abi, a MILF fighter, spent one month in the jungles fighting 500 IS militants in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao province from 3 Sep to Oct 2.

He described the IS fighters as “very well-trained and well-armed.”

“There were many IS fighters and they were very well-trained, well-armed and well-organised. They had many guns, ammunitions, explosives and bombs. They rigged a large area with bombs,” said Abi, shaking his head with disbelief as he recounted his experience.

“These IS fighters are experts in making bombs. They also had snipers,” said Abi as he sat beneath a tree on the outskirts of Cotabato City. He also saw fighters as young as 13 years old.

“The fighters were dressed in black and sported long beards and long hair. They flew the black flags of IS in their area,” said Abi.

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Graffiti is seen on a wall of a back-alley as government soldiers continue their assault against the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines in June. (File photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

“Every single fighter had a bullet-proof vest on … they must have a lot of money to be able to afford those vests,” said Abi.

As he was speaking, Abi threw a quick look around his surroundings.

“IS spies are everywhere. There are many of them. One needs to be careful,” he said.

“IS is offering people 100,000 pesos (US$1,950) to join them. They also promised new recruits they would get a monthly allowance of 30,000 pesos,” said Abi. “Many people on Mindanao island have been recruited by them.”

According to the military, clashes in Datu Salibo erupted on Aug 2 when the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) tried to hoist the black flag of IS in the area.

BIFF is a splinter group of MILF.

“Heavy fighting ensued. Air support was also called in,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana, Joint Task Force Central spokesman, told Channel NewsAsia.

“Fifty one BIFF members were killed … while the MILF lost 20 men,” said Besana. While there is a lull in military operations, the battle is not yet over. “We expect operations to resume within the next 15 days,” Besana added.


The participation of MILF in the fight against terrorism in Mindanao has provided crucial mass support, said Prof Banlaoi.

“And having the MILF on your side is already a good advantage. They provide military support, intelligence support, they know the terrain, they know people in the terrain as they are fighting their former brothers,” he added.

According to Prof Banlaoi, at least 21 militant groups have pledged allegiance to IS.  Of the 21, four are deemed to be the most dangerous.

The four are:

  • Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
  • Abu Sayyaf Group faction previously led by the late Isnilon Hapilon
  • Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM)
  • Ansarul Khilafah Philippines (AKP)

As IS territories began to crumble in the Middle East, the global terror group called on its followers to make their way to the southern Philippines, the new land of jihad.

Malaysian police have arrested at least five men for attempting to travel to southern Philippines to join the pro-IS faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)

“To date, we have arrested one Malaysian, two Indonesians, two Bangladeshis who tried to make their way to southern Philippines to join the pro-IS faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG),” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of counter-terrorism division of Special Branch, told Channel NewsAsia.

Special Branch is the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysian Police.

And while more suspected extremists are being held, there are claims that new destinations are in the spotlight.

Indonesian Ali Fauzi, a former MILF fighter and member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terror network behind the 2002 Bali bombings, told Channel NewsAsia, Indonesians were heading for Zamboanga city and Basilan island in southern Philippines.

“I’ve heard that a group is heading towards Zamboanga, Basilan island and its surrounding area,” Fauzi told Channel NewsAsia.

“They (militants) feel much safer there as many locals will protect them,” he said.

Source: CNA/ac


The main battle area in the southern city of Marawi on Oct. 25, after the Philippines’s military proclaimed the fighting over against militants backed by the Islamic State. CreditTed Aljibe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

See also:

Unexpected Benefits From a Battle Against ISIS

At source:

Philippine mobile phone trader ‘collected funds’ for Marawi attackers to finance pro-Islamic State militants

October 27, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine security forces have arrested a mobile phone trader suspected of collecting funds to help finance pro-Islamic State militants who took over a southern city for five months, police said on Friday.

Image may contain: outdoor

Damaged houses, buildings and a mosque are seen inside Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Rasdi Malawani, 42, was paraded in front of the press a day after security forces raided his home in Manila’s northern suburbs, where a rocket-propelled grenade and a pistol were seized, Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde said.

Malawani was not allowed to speak to reporters and no defense lawyer was present.

The military on Monday declared victory over the Maute group, which seized control in Marawi City on May 23, after killing the last 40 remaining militants.

More than 1,100 people, including 165 soldiers, were killed in the conflict.

Malawani is the brother-in-law of Maddie Maute, one of the Maute brothers who planned and carried out the Marawi attacks, according to police. They said he had given about 300,000 pesos ($5,800) a month for four months to his sister, Lily.

The funds were collected from dozens of tenants of Salaam Bazaar, a mobile phone, accessories and electronic market owned by Farhana Maute, the jailed family matriarch, in a shopping mall in Quezon City, police said. Malawani had been running the business for her.

“He is facilitating terrorist financing,” Albayalde said. “He is based here in Manila and is not involved in the fighting. He is considered a supporter and sympathizer.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, in a speech before an association of professionals late on Thursday, warned of possible retaliation from militants after the military’s victory in Marawi.

“Retaliation and vengeance are not far-fetched,” Duterte said. “May I just remind you to be vigilant and always be aware that extremism is the problem of the planet today.”

Philippine military chief General Eduardo Ano said on Monday Islamist militants who attacked Marawi on May 23 had received some $1.5 million from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in January.

($1 = 52 pesos)

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie