From The Australian (Jun 27): ISIS leaders execute their own in siege city of Marawi
The Philippines military says leadership of allied Islamic State groups holed up in the war-torn city of Marawi is “crumbling”, with reports they are executing their own fighters as the siege enters its second month.
Joint Taskforce Marawi spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said yesterday the reports were still to be verified but were being pieced together from accounts by civilians who had recently escaped the conflict zone, and from interviews with arrested militants and family members.
“We have reports that they have executed their own fighters. That’s a manifestation of a crumbling leadership,” Mr Herrera said. Civilian negotiators on Sunday held talks with Abdullah Maute, one of two brothers at the helm of the Islamic State-affiliated Maute group, which led the attack on Marawi with a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group.
The Marawi elders entered the city during an eight-hour ceasefire negotiated to allow up to 500 civilians still trapped in Marawi to celebrate the Islamic festival of Eid.
The negotiators emerged before the deadline of 2pm on Sunday (4pm AEST) — when fighting immediately resumed — with six terrified civilians, including a woman with a 16-month-old girl who said she had given birth to a boy during the siege but he had died from lack of food.
Up to 340,000 people have been displaced by the five-week conflict, which has claimed more than 375 lives, including at least 280 militants.
Mr Herrera said the military was still seeking to verify reports that Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon — a leader of the Marawi attack and alleged Islamic State-appointed emir of the Philippines — might have slipped out of the city.
On Friday the military said it was believed Omarkhayam Maute, co-commander of the Maute group with Abdullah, had been killed, along with Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist and the main financier of the militants’ siege, Mahmud Ahmad.
But Malaysian authorities denied that report, saying they believed Mahmud had fled with Hapilon.
Rommel Banlaoi, a security analyst and chairman of the Philippines Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, told The Australian that Sunday’s ceasefire talks were part of back-channel efforts to convince the Maute family to surrender, and not formal peace negotiations.
“Right now there are still difficulties because foreign militants from Indonesia and Malaysia are pursuing a harder stand (in which) the ISIS struggle to establish an Islamic province in the Philippines is not for negotiation. It can only be achieved through armed struggle,” Dr Banlaoi said.
“The intention of the Philippines government is to really foment division among pro-ISIS militant groups.
“Let’s wait and see what happens. The idea of capturing territory to implement sharia law is not indigenous to Philippines Muslims, to Bangsomoro people,” he said, referring to Filippino Muslims from central Mindanao in the country’s south.
While authorities are refusing to set a deadline for clearing Marawi City, having missed several previous target dates, it is believed security forces are edging closer to recapturing the city.
In an interview with The Australian last week Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana said intercepts of communications from surviving militants suggested they were running out of ammunition and food.
But Dr Banlaoi said there was a difference between clearing Marawi of militants and ending the conflict, which would “take a long time and will be a struggle” given the “multi-linear” origins of the conflict.
“There are many reasons why this armed violence involving the Maute family (a powerful clan in the Lanao del Sur region) took place,” he said.
“It was a combination of clan feuding, criminal differences over criminal activities (including arms and drug smuggling), Islamic propagation and foreign influence,” Dr Banlaoi said.
“Right now the Mautes have suffered major setbacks because of intense military operations against them, and there is talk of competition between the Maute brothers and Isnilon Hapilon.
“There is a view among the Mautes that Hapilon brought a curse upon the family because he is at large and the parents are in jail.”