Philippines Confirms Death of Malaysian Militant in Marawi

Jeoffrey Maitem, Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo
Marawi, Philippines
171009-PH-marawi-620.jpg Smoke rises from Marawi city as government forces pound positions held by Islamic State-linked fighters, Oct. 9, 2017.
Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews

Updated at9:34 a.m. ET on 2017-10-12

A Malaysian identified as Joraimee Awang Raimee was among fighters killed by government forces in recent battles to retake southern Marawi city from Filipino militants linked with Islamic State (IS), the Philippine military confirmed Monday.

Joraimee, 42, was among 15 militants who died in an airstrike during operations to recover a mosque that had been turned into an enemy stronghold, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez told reporters.

“After DNA testing, Malaysia confirmed to us that Joraimee was dead. More than 50 foreign militants were in Mindanao before the siege started,” Galvez said, adding that Joraimee belonged to a circle of leaders who planned the militant siege of the southern Philippine city in May.

Less than 10 foreign fighters are believed to be in the main battle area, providing back-up to local IS militants headed by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who is also chief of the Philippine IS branch.

Hapilon and fellow militant leader Omarkhayam Maute are still alive, but the latter is believed to have been wounded in clashes that have lasted nearly five months and largely destroyed this once scenic lakeshore city.

Joraimee was the right-hand man of Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian national and former professor at University of Malaya, who is suspected of financing the siege of Marawi. Mahmud is believed to be alive.

Both Mahmud and Joraimee were “key planners” of the siege, which began on May 23, according to Galvez. They reportedly planned the attacks with Hapilon and the Maute brothers to transform Marawi into an IS “wilayat” (province) in Southeast Asia.

Galvez did not list the nationalities of the other foreigners, although the defense establishment earlier said the IS-linked fighters included militants from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

“We have information that Omar, Dr. Mamud, and six to nine foreign terrorists are still alive. That’s why we are making it slow because it’s very critical considering they are dangerous, very aggressive and desperate,” Galvez said.

Closing in

However, troops were closing in and primed to retake Marawi soon, he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte had said the city would be retaken by the end of September.

“The timeline we gave to our chief of staff was Oct. 15. But we can achieve that (even) earlier,” Duterte said, without divulging the source of his optimism.

To date, the number of enemy fighters killed has reached 774, while 158 government troops have died, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman in Manila, said Monday. Forty-seven civilians have been killed as well.

On Sunday, 69 buildings and structures were cleared of unexploded ordnance, Padilla said. “But there remains still about more or less 200 buildings in about a five- to seven-hectare area where the firefight is continuing,” he said.

The battle was centered in an area where militants are known to be hiding out in at least one mosque “which, we believe, is likewise being used as a safe haven and as a storage area for arms, food, and whatever cache they have,” he said.

Based on debriefings and statements from a group of recently freed hostages, Padilla said the government believes about 40 other hostages are being held by an enemy force that numbers 60 fighters.

“So our operations will still continue in the same manner that they have been carried out ever since, because the objective of ground operations is not only to clear the area of armed elements, but also to rescue all these remaining hostages from the hands of these rebels,” he said.

New details about doctor in custody

Padilla said the arrest of Filipino doctor Russel Salic, who was allegedly helping the Maute group, and his impending extradition to the United States proved that local militants were actively supporting foreign IS affiliates and terror groups.

Salic voluntarily surrendered to authorities in April, a month before the Marawi siege began, after learning of an arrest warrant against him for unrelated kidnapping charges.

But Salic may have been among those who frequented the mountainous hideout of the Maute group to treat several fighters wounded in fighting government troops even before the siege in Marawi broke out, Padilla said.

“Apart from this, based on information that was also gathered from Interpol and other allied intelligence agencies, he apparently has connections to other groups around the world, including in the Middle East and the United States,” Padilla said.

American authorities named Salic as among three individuals accused of plotting terror attacks in New York in 2016, and has allegedly contributed funds to carry out the attack.

“This just goes to show that the government and all agencies of government are closely watching any potential sources of linkages with other terror organizations,” Padilla said.

“So it is not only the Philippines, but it is the alliance of nations that are interested to keep their nations safe from the clutches of terror that is involved here,” he said.

An earlier version misspelled the name of suspected Malaysian militant Mahmud Ahmad.


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