Philippines: IS-linked Suspects Arrested in Maguindanao

Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
Iligan City, Philippines
170607-PH-Marawi-620 A soldier smashes a door during a house-to-house clearing operation against Islamist militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, June 7, 2017.

Philippine troops have arrested two suspected Islamic State-linked militants more than 100 miles from Marawi, an indication that violence that has killed almost 200 people in that city could spread elsewhere in the restive south.

Akmad Alibonga, police commander of Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao province, said Wednesday that the suspects, Kamarodin Butukan Rajah and Akmad Ginta Acob, were arrested after government operatives raided their hideout in the town on Tuesday. A third suspect, identified as Iskak Mohamad, escaped.

Maguindanao is about 200 km (124 miles) south of Marawi, the country’s main Muslim city of more than 200,000 people that has been virtually emptied after more than two weeks of fighting between the Philippine military and local militants from the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups backed by dozens of foreign fighters.

“We are preparing the filing of charges against them. Right now we are checking their identities if they are really connected with Maute in Lanao del Sur,” Alibonga said. Marawi is the capital of Lanao del Sur province.

During the raid, soldiers recovered a cache of weapons, including AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles, along with carbine rifles, two shotguns, several handguns, a .50-caliber sniper rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, bomb-making materials and several black Islamic State flags.

‘Significant developments’

The duo’s arrest came the same day that police nabbed Cayamora Maute, alleged to be the father of Omar and Abdullah Maute, the acknowledged leaders of the Maute group.

The government had earlier offered about U.S. $100,000 each for the “neutralization” of the brothers and $200,000 dollars for Isnilon Hapilon, former deputy leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group who is now acknowledged as the local leader of IS.

The fighting in Marawi erupted when the military and police moved in to arrest Hapilon after monitoring his movements in the city. But they were caught off guard by the surprisingly heavy enemy force, backed up by foreign fighters.

The gunmen launched an orgy of violence, burning homes and establishments and taking a Catholic priest hostage. The priest, who is believed to be still alive, has said in a recorded video message that he was being held captive with at least 200 others, including women and some children. There has been no official confirmation of his claim.

In Manila on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the death toll in 15 days of fighting had reached 134 militants, 39 security officers and 20 civilians.

But he emphasized there were also “significant developments” that included the recovery of cash in local currency worth an equivalent of more than U.S. $1 million allegedly left behind by the gunmen, and the rescue of some 92 civilians trapped since the weekend.

‘Stiffer resistance’

While the troops continue to advance, persistent worries have been booby traps left behind by fleeing gunmen and their possible use of civilians as “human shields” and mosques as staging areas.

Troops are “doing their jobs to clear Marawi of all potential existence of booby traps, IEDs that may have been left behind by many of these armed elements that have been going from house-to-house,” said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

He appealed on the people of Marawi to understand that the troops would continue to use airstrikes to flush out the militants who were engaged in a “stiffer kind of resistance from the inner enclaves of the city.”

“We feel the pain, we feel the hurt of every member or every citizen or every resident of Marawi,” he said.

“But let us remember that we did not start this from happening. It was the armed group, the Maute-Daesh-ISIS inspired group that entered your city to wreak havoc on it,” he added, referring to IS by a different name and acronym.

He said the Marawi take-over appeared to be part of a “bigger plan and it was supposed to wreak more havoc.”

“This information came from the many materials and documents that we recovered from the area, and that we continue to study and analyze,” he said, a day after the military declassified a video it had recovered that purportedly showed Hapilon planning the Marawi siege along with several identified militants.

“So we have known about these plans already, and these are the proof that there was indeed planning that was going on to destroy and wreak havoc and spread terror in the City of Marawi,” he said.

Padilla said President Rodrigo Duterte was being briefed daily about the progress of the fighting, and had also been informed about the materials declassified Tuesday.

“We do not want this to drag on, and we would like to bring back Marawi to its previous state as an economic center where people converge,” he said.

He also appealed on the public and social-media users not to spread videos showing the enemy destroying the church and other Catholic icons because it may fan hatred.

“It is intended by these militants to induce other Christian elements to fight against these armed elements or to sow hatred among Christians and Muslims,” he said. “This is not a religious war, this is a terror attack on the City of Marawi and we must be clear about it.”


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