Philippine Troops Kill 9 Militants in Marawi

Jeoffrey Maitem and Felipe Villamor
Marawi, Philippines, and Manila
171106-Marawi-620.jpg Government troops keep watch near bombed-out buildings in the southern Philippine city of Marawi days after the military declared the fighting against Islamic State-inspired Muslim militants over, Oct. 25, 2017.

Philippine security forces killed at least nine more pro-Islamic State (IS) extremists during the weekend in Marawi, officials said Monday, as confusion arose over the national police chief’s statement that a Malaysian may have taken over leading the militants.

The nine were killed in daylong clashes on Sunday during clearing operations focused on stragglers in the main battle area, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla told reporters.

The fresh clashes occurred two weeks after the government declared an end to a five-month battle that has killed 930 militants, 165 soldiers and policemen and 47 civilians – the country’s biggest casualty figures in years.

“Clearing operations are focused on the remaining areas of Marawi believed to hold terrorist stragglers fighting for survival and hiding out in the hope of escaping the main battle area,” Padilla said.

“The AFP also denies that the remaining stragglers will be able to influence the overall security situation of the once besieged city,” he said, referring to the Philippine armed forces by its acronym.

Padilla said that contrary to police pronouncements that the stragglers are headed by Amin Baco, the military “strongly believes that the group is now leaderless and without direction.”

“Baco is believed to have been among those killed in Marawi recently. Baco’s remains are now the subject of an ongoing aggressive search,” he said.

Among those killed in the latest gun battles was Ibrahim Maute (alias Abu Jamil), who was a cousin of brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute, the leaders of a gang that backed Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in Southeast Asia.

“These nine stragglers are believed to be part of the remaining Maute-IS terrorists who attacked the city,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the local Joint Task Force Ranao.

“The deaths of these nine terrorists were a result of fierce fighting from early dawn Sunday until late afternoon,” he said. “Government troops are still on the lookout for more possible terrorists-stragglers in the main battle area.”

Clashes erupted on May 23 when government forces moved to arrest Hapilon, who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Security forces were surprised when they encountered a strong enemy contingent, including fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Isnilon was killed along with Omarkhayam in mid-October, while Abdullah was believed killed earlier.

Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian university professor who allegedly bankrolled the Marawi attack, was subsequently believed killed, leaving a power vacuum as the remaining militants sought to escape from Marawi.

Indonesian woman arrested

Also on Sunday, police arrested Minhati Madrais, the Indonesian widow of Omarkhayam, and seized bomb-making equipment from her home.

Another Indonesian militant, Ilham Syahputra, 23, was arrested last week, and during interrogation told police that he believed Baco had assumed leadership of the remaining fighters.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa earlier told reporters intelligence reports stated Baco survived and assumed leadership of the militants.

“We received report that Amin Baco has replaced Isnilon Hapilon. Amin Baco is the leader, not just of the remaining Maute gang but as an emir of Southeast Asia ISIS,” dela Rosa told reporters, using the Islamic State’s other name.

Previously, the military said Baco was believed to be among the 42 people killed when the gunmen made their last stand last week.

Meanwhile, Indonesian counterterrorism investigators said they would depart on Tuesday to interview Ilham and Minhati, the two Indonesians arrested in the southern Philippines.

“Densus 88 will delve into the data and will soon go to the Philippines. The sooner, the better. They leave tomorrow,” police spokesman Setyo Wasisto told reporters in Jakarta Monday, referring to the nation’s elite anti-terror squad.

Setyo said authorities were investigating the extent to which West Java native Minhati was involved in terrorism.

“We cannot speculate, it has to be based on evidence. The team must be careful. It’s being handled and explored,” he said.

Asked how many Indonesians had joined the militants in Marawi, Setyo said it was difficult to estimate because “they don’t report” their departures.

In June, when asked about Indonesians in Marawi, he had told BenarNews, “Four people have died in Marawi and 22 are still in the southern Philippines. We don’t know their condition.”

Tia Asmara in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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