Philippine Peace Activist who Rescued Hundreds from Marawi Siege in 2017 Dies

Froilan Gallardo
Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
2021-05-25
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Philippine Peace Activist who Rescued Hundreds from Marawi Siege in 2017 Dies Agakhan Sharief (second from left), receives an award from former Peace Secretary Jesus Dureza (third from left) during a ceremony at Mindanao State University in the Philippines, Sept. 5, 2018.
Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews

Philippine peace activist and Marawi tribal leader Agakhan Sharief, who rescued more than 200 trapped civilians during a siege of the southern city by Islamic State-linked militants in 2017, died on Tuesday after a prolonged illness.

Sharief, 49, who was popularly known as “Bin Laden” because of his flowing beard that resembled that of the dead terrorist leader, brokered a ceasefire between state forces and the militants so that 255 civilians could escape.

“His heart finally gave up at around 1:25 a.m.,” said Tirmizy Esmael Abdullah, Sharief’s colleague and a coordinator for the Interfaith Cooperation Forum.

“We are grieving the loss of a great street parliamentarian of our people.”

Back in 2017, Sharief braved sniper fire from the militants and suspicions from the military as he rode his small motorcycle around Marawi looking for civilians.

“Sharief was already sickly when he spearheaded the rescue of Marawi residents trapped in the fighting,” Abdullah said, adding his colleague died from liver cirrhosis. 

On Tuesday, a small crowd of friends gathered outside the hospital where Sharief spent the last week of his life.

Drieza Lininding, Sharief’s friend and chairman of the Moro Consensus Group civic organization, said the activist was buried Tuesday on the campus of Mindanao State University in a section that overlooks Marawi. 

During the siege of Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte initially spurned Sharief’s efforts to rescue the city’s trapped residents.

“Let me be clear that the position of the palace and the president is not to negotiate with terrorists, including these local terrorist groups, which had intended to establish a state within the Philippine,” Ernesto Abella, Duterte’s spokesman at the time, said in July 2017.

Sharief argued he had to negotiate with the militants so he could enter Marawi without being shot.

Isnilon Hapilon, the Filipino leader of the regional Islamic State group, allowed a joint team of Moro Islamic Liberation Front members and rescue workers inside the embattled city to bring out the trapped civilians.

Hapilon and a group led by the Maute brothers, led hundreds of militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East in taking over Marawi on May 23, 2017. The leaders were killed before government forces reclaimed the city in October 2017.

Sharief had recalled that he was scared someone would break the ceasefire and resume the fighting, while he was on his rescue mission.

“Omar Maute would sometimes wait for us on the side of the street to guide us to where the civilians were hiding,” Sharief had said. 

In 2018, the local government held a ceremony at Mindanao State University to honor Sharief for his role in rescuing the civilians.

Four years after the siege began, a section of Marawi remains off limits and tens of thousands of civilians have yet to return to their homes.

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