Police arrested the Indonesian widow of militant Omarkhayam Maute on Sunday and seized bomb-making equipment from her home in the southern Philippines, officials said.
The suspect, Minhati Madrais, was taken into police custody in Iligan city, about 30 km (19 miles) north of the southern city of Marawi, which was besieged for five months by pro-Islamic State (IS) militants. Social workers took custody of her six children – four girls and two boys.
Police recovered materials used to create improvised explosive devices, including blasting caps and detonating cords, as well as Minhati’s expired Indonesian passport when authorities raided her home, regional police director Supt. Timoteo Gascon Pacleb said in his incident report.
"Based on her passport, she went to the country thrice between 2012 and 2016. When it expired in 2016, she filed extensions of her permit whenever she was here," Senior Supt. Leony Roy Gia, Iligan's chief of police, told BenarNews.
Gia said the suspect was under interrogation for authorities to gather information on her remaining contacts in Marawi or in Mindanao, the nation’s southern third-largest island.
The arrest came after officials directed police personnel in the province to be on heightened alert, as authorities expressed fears militants might attempt to escape the gun battles in Marawi, where about 39 stragglers are locked in close-quarter battles with government forces.
Officials had said that the remaining fighters, possibly including foreign militants, were growing desperate as the military tightened its security cordon in the battle area.
Minhati, a teacher by profession, met Omarkhayam when they were college students in Egypt. After finishing her university studies, they moved back to Indonesia, but eventually returned to Marawi, police said.
Last week, police also arrested 23-year-old Mohammad Ilham Syahputra, an Indonesian militant, as he deserted his comrades and swam across a lake in Marawi, a mosque-studded city of 200,000 that has been reduced to rubble.
The Marawi battle erupted on May 23 when police and the military moved to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of the Southeast Asian branch of IS who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list.
But they were met by a huge force of fighters, including Hapilon’s Abu Sayyaf comrades and several fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They were also backed by a group of militants led by Omarkhayam and his brother, Abdullah Maute.
Militant snipers took strategic positions in buildings, but Air Force jets reduced the threat by launching daily bombing runs.
Government forces killed Hapilon and Omarkhayam on Oct. 16, while Abdullah was slain earlier.
Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian university professor who allegedly bankrolled the Marawi attack, was subsequently killed, the military also reported. It said Mahmud’s death was witnessed by several hostages who had escaped, but his remains have yet to be recovered.
The fighting, which stoked fears that IS might gain a foothold in Southeast Asia, killed almost 1,000 militants, 165 soldiers and police and 47 civilians.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Iligan contributed to this story.