Philippine officials confirmed Monday that the widow of Filipino militant Omarkhayam Maute was turned over to Indonesian officials for possible repatriation, after a court found insufficient evidence she possessed bomb-making materials at the time of her arrest three years ago.
Minhati Madrais, 39, an Indonesian national whose husband was a leader of Islamic State’s 2017 takeover of Marawi city in the southern Philippines before he was killed in fighting there, was transferred to Indonesian officials here after being freed from Philippine custody last Friday, police said.
“She was released to [embassy] officials,” said Col. Michael Pareja, the chief of police in Iligan City, where a regional court in late June had ordered Minhati to be freed.
Indonesian embassy and consulate officials did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for information from BenarNews. On July 17, a senior official at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a news conference in Jakarta that the ministry and other government agencies were discussing what action to take on Minhati’s release and possible repatriation.
Court decision angers local officials
In a nine-page resolution dated June 26, the Regional Trial Court of Lanao del Norte ordered the Indonesian woman released, Philippine sources told BenarNews.
Minhati’s lawyer, Antonio Amarga, asked for the court to dismiss the case against her client due to insufficient evidence on charges of possession of explosives, a motion that the prosecution did not challenge, the sources said.
The court’s decision to free Maute’s widow upset local officials, including the mayor of Marawi, which was largely destroyed during a five-month battle between pro-IS fighters and government forces after hundreds of militants seized the lakeside city in May 2017.
“[Minhati] was freed because it was found out that she had no direct participation in the Marawi [siege] or rebellion,” Majul Gandamra, the city’s mayor who is also a trial lawyer who has been closely following the case, told BenarNews. “She was implicated because she was related to Omar Maute, but she can’t be punished for that reason alone.”
Three years ago, Minhati’s late husband along with other Filipino, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern militants, attacked Marawi in a bid to turn the Muslim city into the Islamic State (IS) group’s caliphate in the region.
They were led by Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group who had assumed the leadership of the Philippine branch of IS. Both Maute and Hapilon were killed in October 2017, at the end of a battle where the military wrested the city back from the militants.
When Minhati was arrested in November that year in Iligan city authorities alleged then that they had recovered bomb-making materials found in her possession. However, the acting presiding judge in the case, Ali Ombra Bacamaran, ruled that the seized items were not admissible in court.
Celso Regencia, the mayor of Iligan City, which borders Marawi and where many of that city’s displaced residents were given sanctuary during the 2017 siege and battle, was visibly disappointed that Minhati had walked free.
“Many people were killed and yet they still could not provide strong evidence,” he told BenarNews.
He declined to comment further.
Rommel Banlaoi, who leads the Philippine Institute for Peace Violence and Terrorism Research, said that Minhati would likely be flown back to Jakarta, where she was expected to be “fully rehabilitated.”
“Her release reflects the weakness of the Philippine intelligence to gather strong evidence to implicate her in the Marawi siege,” he told BenarNews.
“But her release can also provide opportunities for the rehabilitation of individuals associated with terrorist events,” he said.
Another analyst who has knowledge of Minhati’s case, but who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it, told BenarNews that she was likely freed as part of a quid pro quo trade between the two governments of suspected militants in their respective custody.
The court decision to let Minhati go free came after both houses of Congress in June passed a toughened up anti-terrorism bill aimed at fighting the scourge of militancy in the Philippines, especially in the southern Mindanao region.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the bill into law on July 3, and it officially took hold on Saturday. Human rights groups have raised objections about the law, saying that the police and military could also use it to go after critics of the Duterte administration.
Another militant falls
Meanwhile, a Filipino militant with alleged links to the IS was killed in a shootout with authorities on Sunday in Polomolok, a town in South Cotabato province, regional police spokesman Col. Lino Capellan said.
He identified the slain suspect as Ben Usman (also known as Tons Usman), and a known leader of the Ansar Khilafa Philippines, a small homegrown network of Filipino militants based in the south.
Ben Usman was the brother of Basit Usman, a well-known militant who once operated training camps for militants in the southern Philippines and was killed in a gunbattle with government troops in 2015.
Ben Usman had also allegedly developed a network of militants who he was training for bomb attacks in the south, Capellan said.
“During the said operation, the subject sensed the presence of the operating lawmen, immediately grabbed his firearm and fired at arresting officers, and a shoot-out ensued,” where he was killed, Capellan said.