Foreigners May Have Taught Local Militants Suicide-Bomb Skills: Philippine Military

Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
2017.09.27
Marawi, Philippines
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170927-PH-marawi-620.jpg Government troops guard a bridge near the village of Mapandi, not far from the center of fighting with Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi city, Sept. 26, 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

The Philippine military said Wednesday it recovered a vest rigged with explosives from a mosque formerly occupied by fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) in Marawi city, a sign that foreign militants may have taught their Filipino counterparts how to mount suicide bombings.

The enemy side has dwindled to about 70 fighters from a high of more than 600 when fighting in Marawi broke out in May, Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the forces battling the militants, told reporters. Between 10 and 12 of them were believed to be foreign fighters who had taught their Filipino comrades “suicide attacks,” he said.

He said troops conducted a sweep of the recently recovered Grand Mosque.

“That’s something new. The vest rigged with bombs is new. We have not seen that before. This only indicates that they could be planning suicide bombings,” Brawner said.

“The presence of foreign fighters contributed a lot to the cause of the Maute, not just in terms of additional fighters on the ground, but they tend to inspire the other fighters also,” he said.

He was referring to the local Maute group, a small band of radical Muslims that backed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon’s siege of Marawi, a predominantly Islamic city on the southern island of Mindanao. Hapilon is the self-proclaimed IS leader in the region.

Several fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East had been monitored helping the local militants, the Philippine military said earlier.

The gunmen razed Marawi, looted churches and businesses and took scores of civilian hostages, dozens of whom were believed to still be in rebel hands and being used a human shields.

The fighting has been intense, with the army carrying out bombing sorties aided by U.S. and Australian intelligence. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore also pledged to help in counterterrorism training, fearing that the fighting could spill over to their shores.

Brawner said the death toll on the enemy side had reached 711 as government snipers shot more militants trying to escape from the frontline.

The government lost 152 men, while 47 civilians have died since the fighting began in late May.

“We noticed that the enemy forces are trying to escape from the main battle area, that’s why they cannot help but expose themselves to government sniper fires,” he said.

“They are visible even from afar. These are armed men because they were carrying guns. That’s why the only option remaining was for our snipers to neutralize them,” he said.

He said the hostages had been sending messages that most wanted to escape, but were waiting for the right opportunity.

“We can only use ground troops especially in areas where we suspect the hostages are kept. We cannot bombard these specific structures,” Brawner said.

Ground commanders expect the fighting to end in two weeks, barring any unforeseen circumstances, he said.

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