Malaysian List Includes 2 IS Militants Declared Dead by the Philippines

Yussof Ishaq and N. Nantha
Kuala Lumpur
180313-MY-PH-terror-620.jpg Military trucks move through the former main war zone in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Feb. 28, 2018.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Authorities in eastern Malaysia’s Sabah state have added two suspected Malaysian leaders of Islamic State (IS) to an updated list of wanted militants, although the Philippine military had said both were killed in last year’s battle of Marawi.

The names and photos of Mahmud Ahmad and Amin Baco appear as new additions to a list of 16 militants that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) published in January.

The command oversees security along Sabah’s east coast that lies close to the southern Philippines, where the five-month battle took place. This is the first wanted list that ESSCOM published after the Philippine government declared the IS-linked militant siege of the Marawi over in late October 2017.

“All the 16 are wanted for various suspected cross-border crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, sea hijacking and also militancy,” ESSCOM chief Hazani Ghazali told BenarNews. “All of them are Filipinos except two who are Malaysians, Amin Baco and Dr Mahmud Ahmad.”

Hazani did not respond to questions from Benar about Ahmad and Baco.

Deaths remain unconfirmed

In October, the Philippine military declared that Ahmad, a former Malaysian university professor who had succeeded Filipino Isnilon Hapilon as regional leader of IS after Hapilon was killed during the battle of Marawi, died soon after.

“He [Ahmad] died during the assault of our troops the other day – or the other night, where 12 other rebels died,” Philippine military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said on Oct. 20, 2017, adding then that troops had not recovered the body.

To date, the Philippine government has not confirmed Ahmad’s death through DNA testing.

A former student at Islamabad Islamic University in Pakistan, Ahmad reportedly received training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the 1990s before returning home to teach at the University of Malaya.

In 2014, Ahmad fled to the southern Philippines when Malaysian police announced that he and several other Malaysians were wanted for suspected militant activities.

He is believed to have helped transfer funds from IS’s core group in Syria to the southern Philippines through Indonesia to finance the militant siege of Marawi.

Baco, one of the other new names on ESSCOM’s list, is as an expert bomb maker. After the Philippine military broke the Marawi siege, he was said to be leading IS stragglers in the area. But on Nov. 6, Padilla said Baco was believed to have been killed alongside other militants during post-battle firefights.

“Baco’s remains are now the subject of an ongoing aggressive search,” he said at the time.

On Tuesday, Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Baco was one of two leading candidates to take over the top leadership role of the regional branch of IS.

Baco’s body had not been found, but reports suggested he is alive in the southern Philippines, the Associated Press quoted Esperon.

“He was not accounted for in Marawi but he was reported somewhere else,” the national security chief said.

Security cooperation ‘totally chaotic’: analyst

Independent conflict and security analyst Pawel Wójcik said the inclusion of Ahmad on ESSCOM’s list shows a low level of cooperation between Philippine and Malaysian authorities.

“This is another case where the Malaysian and Philippine cooperation seems to be weak despite last year’s calls for joint-intelligence sharing and multiple law enforcement agencies’ attempts to establish some form of a new understanding between the two countries because of a growing jihadi threat,” the Polish expert told BenarNews.

“In fact, the designation of [Ahmad] as a wanted man on the list leads us to think that such understanding and cooperation are at a totally chaotic level and that actual improvement is not there.”

Patrick Blannin, a security analyst from Australia, said the decision to list Ahmad could mean that “Malaysian security officials have intel that he’s still alive.”

“Either way, it may highlight a lack of a much needed coordination between the two states, which is a problem,” Blannin, an international security researcher based at Bond University in Queensland state, told BenarNews.


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