Philippine Military: Seven Militants Have Died in Offensive Targeting IS Regional Leader

Froilan Gallardo and Richel V. Umel
Marawi, Philippines
Philippine Military: Seven Militants Have Died in Offensive Targeting IS Regional Leader Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., head of the Western Mindanao Command (center), inspects a weapon recovered from a militant camp and part of a cache on display in Marawi, southern Philippines, March 3, 2022.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

At least seven militants and a soldier have been killed in three days during a major military operation in the southern Philippines, officials said Thursday, as government forces pursue the alleged new regional leader of the Islamic State extremist group and his 50 followers.

In the city of Marawi on Thursday, the Philippine military displayed a cache of firearms recovered from the fighting since March 1 in a hinterland of Lanao del Sur province.

Among the weapons and munitions seized from the Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group militants were 45 high-powered firearms including shoulder-fired rocket launchers, bombs, and anti-personnel mines, said Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., head of Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).

“The operations resulted in the deaths of seven Daulah Islamiyah members and the recovery of several war materials,” Rosario said using the local name for the Islamic State (IS) group.

All eight deaths, including the government soldier, were the result of ground combat, according to military officials. The soldier was killed on Tuesday, the first day of the fighting during which the military also carried out air strikes on a suspected militant camp in a hinterland village in Maguing town. The offensive was still ongoing as of late Thursday.

"Daulah Islamiyah" means "Islamic State" in the local language. Its membership comprises fighters from several Filipino militant factions, including the Maute Group, which had provided men and logistics during a five-month siege of Marawi by pro-IS fighters in 2017.

Rosario said a black IS flag and other propaganda materials were also recovered. This indicated that the group was actively recruiting new fighters to replenish their ranks after being driven out of Marawi, the provincial capital, in 2017, he said.

The military has identified the target of the offensive as the group led by to Abu Zacharia (also known as Jer Mimbantas and Faharudin Hadji Satar), who is believed to be the newly designated Islamic State emir for Southeast Asia.

Earlier in the week, the military said it launched the offensive because it suspected that Zacharia and up to 50 of his supporters were encamped in the hinterland area near Maguing.

According to the military, Zacharia was part of the Maute group that seized Marawi in 2017 but who escaped. Very little is known about him, except that he is a nephew of the late Alim Abdul Aziz Mimbantas, a former ranking leader in Lanao of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former rebel group based in the southern Philippines.  

Terrorism expert Rommel Banlaoi told BenarNews that Zacharia “regards himself as the new rightful successor of Isnilon Hapilon.” In 2017, Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, was also the regional leader of IS when he led the siege of Marawi and was killed at the end of the five-month battle with government forces.

Zacharia is “projecting himself as the new Hashim Salamat or the new Abdurajak Janjalani,” Banlaoi said.

He was referring to the late Salamat, the charismatic foreign-trained founder of the MILF, and Janjalani, the mujahideen leader who, in the 1990s, founded the Abu Sayyaf Group after returning from fighting occupying Soviet forces in Afghanistan.  

An anti-tank rocket seized from Filipino Islamic State militants is displayed with other recovered weapons in Marawi, southern Philippines, March 3, 2022. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

Early Tuesday, the Philippine launched the assault on the Maute Group positions, with the air force carrying out what it claimed were precision bombing runs to allow the infantry to advance. 

The military has described the hinterland outside Maguing as a sparsely populated area. It is about 37 km (33 miles) southeast of Marawi.

Early on during the operation, there were concerns that the aerial bombardments could have endangered villagers.

The former MILF separatist group, which now controls an autonomous region in the south, said Wednesday that the area where the fighting was taking place bordered one of its territories. 

There were no immediate reports of any civilian casualties, it said, but the fighting had forced an undetermined number of villagers to flee out of fear of getting caught in the middle of the raids.

The MILF leadership had dispatched their men to join the military for an inspection of the battle site, Brig. Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, said Thursday.

“Our partners from the MILF are with us in this fight against the Daulah Islamiyah here in Lanao del Sur. Their support is very much appreciated,” Cuerpo said.

MILF, the largest among guerrilla organizations fighting for a separate Muslim state in the mainly Catholic Philippines, signed a peace agreement in 2014 with Manila after 17 years of conflict and negotiations.

Col. Ramon Zagala, the overall spokesman of the Philippine armed forces, also sought to assure the MILF that the government respected the peace accord it had signed with the government in 2014 and that the targeted enemies were actually “peace spoilers.”

“Our enemy there are the members of the terrorist Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group. It’s not the MILF that we engaged,” Zagala told a radio interview.

“We’d like to assure our partners in the MILF that we respect the peace accord. We are on track, and we’re merely targeting the peace spoilers, not them,” said Zagala, who is based in Manila.

A BenarNews correspondent contributed to this report from Zamboanga City, southern Philippines.


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Norman Buluan
Mar 04, 2022 06:53 AM

Very poor analogy by this Banlaoi “terrorism expert,” comparing Hashim Salamat to the other notorious bandit leaders Janjalani and Hapilon. Salamat belonged to MILF which the government hatched a peace agreement.