The Philippines on Wednesday hailed the U.S. designation of the Maute group as a foreign terrorist organization affiliated with Islamic State (IS), four months after government forces ended a militant siege co-led by it in the southern city of Marawi.
The U.S. move, announced in Washington on Tuesday, was a “positive development in the campaign against terrorism,” Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“This reaffirms our long-held belief that the Maute group is composed of local terrorists aided by foreign extremists,” Roque said in a statement.
In addition to blacklisting the Maute group, which pledged allegiance to IS in 2014, the U.S. State Department designated the Abu Sayyaf Group, a Muslim extremist group operating in the southern Philippines as a terrorist organization affiliated with IS. The department also designated five militant groups and 40 people from other countries as terrorists linked to Islamic State.
“This likewise recognizes the decisive action we have taken in liberating Marawi from these terrorists, which resulted in the success of the government in thwarting the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the area and the containing of the rebellion from spreading to other parts of the Philippines,” Roque said.
He said the inclusion of the Maute group on the U.S. list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists and Foreign Terrorist Organizations showed “the solidarity and resolve of the international community” against threat groups.
The State Department designations deny blacklisted groups access to the American financial system. It makes it a crime for any American citizen to provide, or attempt to conspire to provide material support or resources to at the blacklisted organizations.
In September 2016, the Maute group was blamed for a bombing that killed 15 people and wounded 70 others in President Rodrigo Duterte’s southern hometown of Davao. In November that year, the group attempted to detonate a bomb near the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Led by brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, the group, backed an Abu Sayyaf faction headed by Isnilon Hapilon, launched a daring takeover of the Islamic city of Marawi in May last year. Hapilon had emerged as the overall leader of IS in the region.
Supported by fighters from other countries, the militants thwarted an initial police and military force sent to capture Hapilon. Fierce clashes ensued, emptying the lakeshore city and leaving it in ruins in a battle that dragged on for five months.
The Philippines was forced to seek military assistance from its allies, the U.S. and Australia, in breaking the siege.
In October 2017, the Maute brothers and Hapilon were proclaimed killed as the siege ended. More than 1,200 people died in the battle, mostly militants.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte asked for an extension of martial law in the south, alleging that dozens of other militants had escaped and still posed a danger.
Since January, Philippine officials have arrested at least four foreigners – including a suspected IS bomber from the Middle East and a Spanish national – on anti-terrorism charges. Authorities alleged that the foreigners were plotting potential attacks and could be seeking links with the dispersed militant force in the south.