From Malaya Business Insight (Jul 20): Duterte says Maute, ASG to attack Basilan, 3 cities
PRESIDENT Duterte has revealed to Congress that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute Group are planning to launch attacks in Basilan province and the cities of Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, and Zamboanga.
In a seven-page letter to Congress dated July 18, the President asked lawmakers to extend his martial law declaration in Mindanao until December 31 and cited the reasons to justify his request.
For one, he said validated intelligence reports that show Hapilon and the Mautes “have sent an operational fund to ASG sub-leader Furuji Indama in order to launch attacks in Basilan, Cagayan de Oro City, Gen. Santos City, and Zamboanga City.”
“Hapilon has also directed the remnants of the AKP (terror group Ansarul Khalifa Philippines) to conduct IED (improvised explosive device) bombings in vital areas in Mindanao, including Lanao del Norte,” Duterte said.
Basilan, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, and Zamboanga City are known to be areas where terrorists operate.
A military official who spoke on condition of anonymity described Basilan and Zamboanga as a “natural habitat” of Hapilon who is believed to be still in the company of Maute Group members who are holed out in portions of Marawi City.
General Santos City, he said, is a known area of Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines. The group’s leader, Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, died in a clash with government forces in Kiamba, Sarangani last January.
Cagayan de Oro City is where the Maute Group first became known. “They’ve launched attacks there in the past,” the official said. “They have presence in these areas. They still have networks there.”
The Maute Group has been battling government forces in Marawi City since May 23, the day Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under martial law. The conflict is ongoing, although the enemy strength has been waning, according to government officials.
Hapilon has reportedly been named by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as its leader in Southeast Asia. The Maute Group, like the Abu Sayyaf, has pledged allegiance to the ISIS.
The 60-day martial law ends on July 22, the same day Congress will hold a special session to tackle a possible extension of martial law, as requested by Duterte.
The House of Representatives and the Senate are set to convene jointly in at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
Aside from Hapilon, Duterte said in the letter that key leaders of the “rebellion” like the Maute brothers Abdullahn Omarkhayam and Abulasiz alias Madie, and foreign terrorist Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, remain at large.
The Maute Group, the ASG, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are part of the Da’Watul Islamiyah Waliyatul Masriq (DIWM), the Daesh-inspired group the government is fighting, he said.
Daesh is an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and is basically another term for ISIS, which ISIS militants reportedly do not like.
“Despite the progress and significant strides that we have achieved against the DIWM and its sympathizers, however, the rebellion persists and a lot more remains to be done to completely quell the same and bring back public order and safety in Mindanao,” he said.
Duterte warned Congress that the “Daesh-inspired” group’s leadership “largely remains intact despite the considerable decline in the number of revels fighting in the main battle area.
Moreover, the President said, terrorist groups from various parts of Mindanao “who are espousing or sympathizing the same ideology remain active and are ready to reinforce Isnilon Hapilon’s group or launch diversionary attacks and similar uprising elsewhere.”
Duterte said the enemies continue to offer resistance not only in Marawi City but also in other parts of western and central Mindanao, noting that four barangays in Marawi are still under the terrorists’ control. (The military has been saying the Mautes continue to occupy only parts of the four barangays.)
“The city’s commercial districts, where about 800 structures are located, are found within these areas. The rebels have likewise holed up in mosques, madrasahs and hospitals, thereby restricting the government troops’ offensive movements as they have to consider the safety of civilian hostages and trapped resident nearby,” he said.
The President said that despite the arrests of key personalities like Ominta “Farhana” Maute, the mother of the Maute brothers, “support structures have been continuously sustained, with the emergence of such new replacements as Adel Sarip-Maute alias Monai, who was recently apprehended in Taguig City.”
To compound the situation, the President said, foreign terrorist fighters and organizations have shown active support for the local rebel groups either by coming to the Philippines as reinforcements to Hapilon’s group, like the 20 recently identified Indonesians who actually joined the battle in Marawi City, or by providing much needed resources, like Malaysian fugitive bin Ahmad “who is believed to have planned and financed the Marawi City siege and to have links with the Daesh in the Middle East.”
Duterte said the crisis “has introduced a newly evolving type of urban warfare – one that that is characterized by the rebels’ total disregard for civilian lives, cruelty to combatants and non-combatants alike and widespread looting and pillaging or occupied communities.”
“This type of urban warfare has caused a significant number of casualties on both sides and huge destruction of property, both public and private, more importantly, the house-to-house firefights have slowed down the advance of government forces and their mopping up operations,” he said.
From May 23 to July 10, he said, said military operations have neutralized 379 out of the estimated 600 DIWM rebels and had recovered 329 firearms.
For these reasons, he said, he has concluded that the “rebellion” in Mindanao, which has prompted him to issue Proclamation No. 216 on May 23, “will not be quelled completely by July 22, 2017, the last day of the 60-day (martial law) period.
“For all these reasons and as public safety clearly requires it, the proclamation of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao need to be extended until December 31, 2017 or for such period of time as the Congress may determine. I request the continued support of both Houses of Congress to achieve our common goal of protecting and preserving the integrity of the Republic,” he said.