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Philippine Militant Suspects Linked to Marawi Siege Caught Near Manila

Joseph Jubelag and Richel V. Umel
General Santos and Iligan, Philippines
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Government soldiers survey the area inside the former main battle zone in Marawi, southern Philippines, May 2019.
Government soldiers survey the area inside the former main battle zone in Marawi, southern Philippines, May 2019.
[Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

Three suspected militants, including two men allegedly involved in the Islamic State-linked takeover of Marawi city in the southern Philippines in 2017, were arrested in separate operations over the weekend, authorities said Monday.

In Quezon City near Manila, police intelligence agents caught Arnel Cabintoy (alias Abu Mus’ab) and Feliciano Sulayao (alias Abu Muslim) during an operation on Saturday, national police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde said. He did not divulge other details but said both suspects were Muslim converts and operatives of Dawlah Islamiya, a local name for the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

“I am pleased to announce the capture of terrorist personalities wanted by the law for involvement in the infamous Marawi siege of 2017,” Albayalde said.

“Although there is no direct evidence linking them to any terrorist activity in metro Manila, an investigation is underway to uncover the circumstances surrounding their presence in the city to possibly identify the persons who provided them sanctuary,” he added.

The two suspects were said to be under the command of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group. Sawadjaan inherited the top IS post in the Philippines after Isnilon Hapilon, the Islamic State chief in the region, was killed toward the end of the five-month siege of Marawi, as government troops battled to wrest the city from militant control.

Philippine authorities have blamed Abu Sayyaf, a small group of Islamic fighters based in the south, for a rash of violence across the Mindanao region, including kidnappings and beheadings.

Cabintoy and Sulayao, Albayalde said, were among dozens of names on a list of people wanted in connection with the Marawi siege, and which was signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the administrator of martial law that remains in effect across the southern Philippines.

“Both suspects yielded blasting caps and grenades when arrested. They have been presented before state prosecutors for inquest proceedings for illegal possession of explosives,” Albayalde said.

Little is known about Sawadjaan, but Philippine police had pointed to him as the mastermind of a suicide bombing that killed 23 people at a church on southern Jolo island in January 2019. Police allege that Sawadjaan had deployed an Indonesian couple for a suicide mission in the attack, although authorities in Jakarta have discredited that angle.

Meanwhile in southern General Santos city, police said they had arrested Sabaina Sahak, the widow of Basser Sahak, a ranking leader of Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, an IS-linked group, during an operation in the area on Saturday. Officials have blamed this local group for a bomb attack that injured eight people at a clinic in General Santos last September.

Police said Sabaina Sahak was among suspects charged in connection with the bombing. Her husband, Basser, was killed during a police operation in southern Sarangani province in October 2018.

Authorities also tagged Sabaina Sahak as a finance and operations officer for AKP. Its leader, Mohammad Jaafar Maguid (alias Commander Tokboy), was killed in an encounter with security forces in January 2017.

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