Remnants of a Philippine extremist group which helped carry out a five-month takeover of Marawi city by pro-Islamic State fighters in 2017 have regrouped under a new leader, a senior military official in the region said Friday.
Faharudin Hadji Satar (alias Abu Bakar) is the de facto commander of the Maute band, said Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, commanding officer of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade.
“Satar is not yet bestowed with the title of emir but all the militants in Lanao del Sur already recognize him as their leader,” Cuerpo told BenarNews as the Philippines prepared to mark the third anniversary of the end of the Marawi siege on Oct. 23.
It was the first time that the Philippine armed forces publicly revealed the name of the man who took the reins of the Maute band after Owaida Marohombsar (alias Abu Dar) was killed along with four of his men in a clash with troops near the town of Tubaran, in Lanao del Sur province on March 14, 2019.
Marohombsar, an aleem or preacher, was alleged to be among the key planners of the siege of Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur.
He served as a lieutenant for his cousins, Abdullah and Omarkhayyam Maute, brothers who planned and helped lead the attack which began on May 23, 2017 under the overall direction of Isnilon Hapilon, then the Islamic State (IS) leader in the Philippines.
Hapilon and the Maute brothers were killed after months of intense fighting, but Marohombsar escaped, only to die in a later clash with troops.
After Hapilon’s death, the IS named Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf militant, as the next commander in the south, but his attacks have been confined to the island of Jolo far from the Lanao areas.
Satar was among the 53 IS-inspired militants charged in the Philippine courts over the beheadings of two sawmill workers in the town of Butig, also in Lanao del Sur province, in 2016.
He slipped out of Marawi when ordered to round up reinforcements and establish a food supply route. Before Satar could plan his return, troops had overrun militant positions in Marawi, Cuerpo said.
City in ruins
Most of Marawi is in ruins and remains off-limits to residents, three years after the battle that killed more than 1,000 militants, soldiers and civilians.
At least 125,000 residents of Marawi remain displaced, according to the United Nations. They are living in temporary shelters that dot the skyline of the only predominantly Islamic city in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.
Militants are capitalizing on the government’s slow reconstruction and are sending text messages to entice young Marawi residents to join their ranks, humanitarian workers told BenarNews.
They said similar recruitment efforts were taking place in the municipalities of Balindong, Madalum and Piagapo, all in Lanao, where Islamic militancy stretches back to the 1970s.
Abdullah Makapaar (alias Commander Bravo), a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), discouraged its members from joining the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group during several public engagements here.
“Officially, the MILF discourage their members from joining but the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute group hope they can entice the MILF fighters not on the official roster,” Cuerpo said.
“That is why the recruitment is active near the MILF camps in the towns of Balindong, Madalum and Piagapo,” he said.
The MILF had been country’s main Muslim separatist group, but it signed a peace deal with Manila. It controls an autonomous region in the south, and has begun decommissioning its fighters for integration into the government.
About 10,000 of these fighters live in Lanao areas.
Abel Moya, director of Pakigdait, a non-government organization helping with the implementation of the peace deal, said the government and MILF should hasten the decommissioning process.
“The ex-rebels are heavily armed. That is the reason why the militants are eager to have them in their ranks,” Moya said.
Richel V. Umel in Iligan City, Philippines, contributed to this report.