An alleged “financier” of Islamic State-linked (IS) fighters in the city of Marawi has been arrested in Manila, a Philippine presidential spokesman said Wednesday as security officials in the south braced for more potential violence.
While it was not known exactly how many militants escaped from Marawi as troops this week ended a five-month siege, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said some Maute-group supporters remained at large.
“We ask our people to continuously remain vigilant in their respective areas and cooperate with police and soldiers to hunt down all remaining terrorists and other lawless elements who are out to destroy the peace prevailing in our communities,” he said.
Maute and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants linked to IS led foreign and local fighters in seizing the majority-Muslim city of Marawi on May 23. The government announced it had regained control of the city on Monday.
Abella did not release names of suspected militants or say where any manhunts were taking place, but announced that police recently arrested Aminkisa Romato Macadato in a northern Manila suburb.
“He is the nephew of Maute matriarch Farhana Maute and is included in the Martial Law Arrest Order of the Department of National Defense,” Abella said.
Macadato helped collect weapons and ammunition prior to the attack, according to reports. His aunt, Farhana Maute was arrested along with two wounded fighters in June.
Abella’s statement came as security forces were redeployed from Marawi, which remains under tight government control as city planners moved to complete an assessment of damage.
On Monday, the military said troops had stormed the last stronghold of the gunmen and killed 42, just days after overall IS leader Isnilon Hapilon and Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, who allegedly funneled money to the fighters, were killed.
Malaysian Police Chief Mohamad Fuzi Haron offered to send police officers to collect DNA samples from Marawi to compare with Mahmud’s family members. He said the Philippines had yet to send an official formal request.
“The one who confirmed [Mahmud’s death] was the president [Rodrigo Duterte]. We can’t confirm for sure. I can’t respond on the details,” Fuzi said.
A source told BenarNews that Philippine forces believe that another Malaysian, Mohd Amin Baco (alias Abu Jihad), was killed in the hostilities.
“He was likely killed in the last stand,” said one intelligence source who asked to remain anonymous. “He was a big fish among the militants.”
Baco apparently had links with an ASG faction in the southern Philippine island of Jolo through his father-in-law.
Meanwhile, troops continued pursuing a commander called Abu Dar, alleged to be the IS recruiter in Mindanao, who escaped early in the Marawi fighting, Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said. The military did not release details about Dar, citing the sensitivity of the operation.
Despite the defeat in Marawi, IS continues recruitment efforts using the Internet, military officials said.
Brawner said the tech-savvy militants had used photos of the devastation as part of their propaganda material online.
“There are again efforts to recruit and we don’t want another repeat of Marawi,” Brawner told reporters in Marawi. “Their targets are the youth.”
About 920 militants, 165 soldiers and 47 civilians were killed in the five-month battle, the biggest security challenge to test the resolve of Duterte, who assumed power last year.
Duterte had placed the entire south under martial law, giving the military extra police powers to defeat the militants. But while fighting has been officially declared ended, foreign governments continue to warn their citizens against traveling to the south.
The United Kingdom this week refreshed a travel advisory claiming the threat of terrorism remained high.
“Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity to carry out attacks at anytime and anywhere in the country, including the places visited by foreigners, like airports shopping malls, public transport, and places of worship,” it said.
Felipe Villamor in Manila and Ray Sherman in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.