Monday, June 26, 2017

ISIS leaders execute their own in siege city of Marawi

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.”

4 Hostages Beheaded By Militant Extremists in Southern Philippines, Military Says

From Benar News (Jun 26): 4 Hostages Beheaded By Militant Extremists in Southern Philippines, Military Says


Philippine soldiers rescue a child who had been trapped in crossfire between troops and Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern city of Marawi, June 25, 2017.

Islamic State-backed gunmen who laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi have beheaded four civilian hostages, the military said Monday, citing witnesses.

The military said civilians who had been extricated from the war zone during the weekend told officials that four civilians were beheaded by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf group.

"This puts the total number of civilians killed by the terrorists at 30," a military official who requested anonymity told BenarNews.

He said Teresito Suganob, a Catholic priest taken hostage by the militants, had been seen alive as of last Friday, weeks after he went on air apparently under duress and appealed on the government to stop its airstrikes on rebel-held areas in Marawi.

Separately, a BenarNews source who had met with the gunmen in a mission sanctioned by security officials during the weekend said that one of the militant leaders, Abdullah Maute, told him that Suganob was alive, but would only be freed in exchange for the release of his parents.

Suganob and some church workers were taken by the Maute-led gunmen when the violence broke out on May 23.

In his earlier videotaped message, Suganob said that about 200 other civilians, including some children, were being held by the militants.

Forced to seek help

Fighting erupted when the police and military were sent in to capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the country.

But the planned arrest was foiled because Hapilon’s force was backed up by extremists belonging to the Maute gang and several foreign fighters, including militants from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Middle East.

A video later recovered by the military showed Hapilon planning the attack with the Maute brothers and several others, including Malaysian terrorist Mahmud Ahmad, an Islamic State leader in the region who allegedly financed the Marawi attack.

More than a month of vicious firefights had transformed Marawi into the biggest internal security crisis in the Philippines, amid intelligence reports the IS was trying to gain a foothold in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

At the start of the siege, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire southern region of Mindanao under martial law, giving the military police powers to regain control of Marawi, a once prosperous lakeside trading center in the south. He has also been forced to seek help from the United States and Australia, two countries that he had earlier publicly insulted.

American P3 Orion spy planes have been providing intelligence help, although U.S. forces on the ground are barred from joining combat. Australia, too, has said it was ready to provide intelligence assistance.

Omarkhayam Maute dead?

On Friday, the military said it had received reports that Ahmad, as well as Abdullah’s brother Omarkhayam Maute, had been killed in the intense clashes. The Malaysian government however said it could not confirm the information.

At the height of the violence early this month, the parents of Abdullah and Omarkhayam were arrested separately as they fled the fighting, which has transformed the mostly Muslim city of 200,000 into a virtual ghost town.

The BenarNews source who spoke with Abdullah Maute on the weekend said he tried to inquire about Omarkhayam, but did not get a reply.

In Manila, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the government death toll has reached 70, with one soldier dying of his wounds at the hospital at the weekend.

“Such a high price to pay for the liberation of Marawi,” he said. “But we remain undeterred and will carry the fight until our mission is completed.”

The military could not categorically say how many civilians are being held hostage, but intelligence information has indicated about 100, including Suganob. Between 300 and 500 people are also believed trapped in the crossfire.

At least 290 gunmen have also been killed in the violence, which is now in its fifth week, with no immediate signs of ending.

Terrorist leadership in Marawi 'crumbling', says military

From ABS-CBN (Jun 26): Terrorist leadership in Marawi 'crumbling', says military

The terrorist leadership in the battle zone in Marawi City is already "crumbling" as the enemies continue to suffer from losses, the Philippine military said Monday.

Task Force Marawi spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said in a press briefing in the besieged city that victory for government troops is now "irreversible" as the local terrorist group Maute and their cohorts were running out of firepower and other resources.

Herrera said one manifestation of the military's imminent victory is the "crumbling of leadership" of the terrorists inside the conflict zone.

"We have validated reports there are leadership problems inside. They also lack ammunition," the spokesman said.

He said among the problems being encountered by the enemy force were the apparent willingness of some of the Islamist militants to abandon the battlefield as their defensive zone continues to get smaller due to advancing government troops.

He said the terrorists were also encountering problems due to lack of resources and a breakdown in communications.

"There is the issue of money, the issue of decision making. Some of them, especially those other groups, would like already to get away from the battle zone. Gusto na nilang lumayas (They want to leave). However, there are some troops who wanted to stay behind to hold their positions," he said.

Herrera said government troops continue to inch their way into areas in the city where the Islamist militants remain holed up. He said the military has already cleared 86 buildings previously held by the militants.

"We are, inch by inch, moving towards the center of gravity,” Herrera said. “These are the things that are affecting them in terms of morale. Mahina na sila.”

Herrera said the only the factors preventing government troops from fully liberating Marawi from the Islamist militants are the presence of planted bombs and other explosives in the battle zone, as well as the presence of trapped residents and hostages.

Meanwhile, the government said the military's 8-hour "humanitarian pause" on Sunday, which was declared in observance of the Islamic celebration of the Eid al-Fitr or the end of Ramadan, was “generally peaceful."

Herrera said 6 civilians, including a senior citizen, were rescued in the 8-hour mission which ran from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

A cadaver of a civilian killed by the terrorists was also recovered.


The Palace said on Monday at least 290 suspected terrorists have been killed since the clashes erupted a month ago. The government has lost 70 of its men while civilian fatalities remain at 27.

Herrera said among the latest additions to list of slain terrorists were two Middle Eastern men, whose cadavers were discovered during clearing operations over the weekend. He said an investigation was underway to identify the two.
The military expressed confidence that the crisis in Marawi City which began on May 23 was nearing its end, as the Maute group’s leader Omar was reportedly killed in one of the airstrikes about two weeks ago.

The military also reported earlier that senior Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon may have already slipped out of Marawi. Hapilon’s foiled arrest triggered the clashes in the predominantly Muslim city.

The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been considered as the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.

The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.

Armed men burn equipment, barracks in Pandan; Contractors not keen on fighting ‘extortionists’ - PNP

From the Catanduanes Tribune (Jun 25): Armed men burn equipment, barracks in Pandan; Contractors not keen on fighting ‘extortionists’ - PNP

This was the conclusion of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Catanduanes after only one representative of the invited contractors showed up in the meeting called last week by PNP provincial director Senior Superintendent Jeffrey Fernandez to discuss measures against alleged extortionists targeting contractors of multi-million infrastructure projects.

In a chance interview, PD Fernandez lamented that the lack of interest shown by local contractors in helping the police address a recent surge of harassment activities by unidentified armed groups said to be demanding protection money from the contractors.

He averred that his office had sent invitations to contractors to ask for their cooperation in possibly launching entrapment operations against the perpetrators.

Several contractors interviewed by the Tribune, however, denied having received an official letter from the PNP provincial director inviting them to the meeting at Camp Francisco Camacho.

The meeting was allegedly called by Senior Supt. Fernandez after the police recorded two incidents of harassment and burning of equipment of contractors committed by armed men at separate construction sites in Pandan and San Andres last week.

In Baldoc, Pandan, while foreman Floribel Alforte, 50, was operating a backhoe at the road construction site of Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corporation (CavDeal) at around 8:28 P.M. of June 10, four unidentified men came.

One of them, described as of medium build, 5’4” in height, wearing short pants and more or less 23-24 years old, poked a Cal. 45 pistol at Alforte and said to him: “Baba at hindi ikaw ang kalaban namin, yong amo niyo ang may problema at hindi tumupad sa usapan.”

The armed man then poured gasoline on the backhoe and set fire to it.

Another suspect armed with a similar firearm also approached Marvin Alforte, 25, then operating a crane at some distance away from the backhoe.

He commanded the operator to step down and asked for the key, after which the suspect poured gasoline on the crane and burned it, along with the company’s barracks

The two CavDeal employees tried to extinguish the flames in an effort to control the damage to the equipment but then they heard a gunshot coming from high ground, prompting them to flee the area.

They later told the Pandan police that prior to the incident, the suspects passed by on board three motorcycles, with one of the back riders holding a blue container believed to be filled with gasoline.

The suspects then parked the motorcycles ahead of the construction site, using the same vehicles in escaping towards barangay Marambong.

After receiving the report, the Pandan police immediately coordinated with the Philippine Army personnel assigned at Tariwara, with the incident confirmed by CaVDeal Engr. Fernando Olfindo and the Baldoc barangay captain.

Two days later in barangay Asgad, San Andres, four employees of NQA Construction and Supply, were working on a road cementing project when they were harassed by four unidentified men armed with Cal. 45 pistols and a hand grenade.

Foreman Edison Pitajen, transit mixer driver Jose Primo Palao, checker Antonio Tud, and backhoe operator Christopher Hogo were at the construction site at 4 P.M. of June 12 when one of the suspects poked a gun at Hogo and forcibly got from them the key of the backhoe, two keys for the transit mixer and a key of the dumptruck.

“Dae kamong respeto, matapos na lamang ang project niyo dae garespeto ang amo niyo, ang engineer niyo,” the armed men said, before boarding a black tricycle towards Codon.

The harassment and burning incidents are the first to be reported for this year, although there are rumors that another contractor has been the victim of armed men who took the key of a construction equipment.

Asked about the renewed extortion and harassment activities allegedly committed by members of the New People’s Army in Catanduanes, 901st Infantry Brigade commander Col. Alden Juan Masagca told the Tribune that the Army has yet to establish whether the communist rebels are indeed responsible.

He said that in past incidents, the suspects did not identify themselves as NPA while the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines has never claimed responsibility for the threats related to extortion activities perpetrated against construction firms as well as business establishments.

A contractor with several big infrastructure projects being implemented under contract with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) district and regional offices says otherwise, attesting the armed men who regularly demands payment of revolutionary tax really belong to the NPA command in the island.

“We cannot do anything but to comply or at best negotiate the amount,” he said, claiming that they are forced to do so to prevent their construction schedules from being delayed.

Another contractor confirmed that the armed demand three percent (3%) of the gross amount of the project cost, which he decried as “too much” since it would be taken out of their profit from the contract,

Some contractors have been known to bargain the “tax” to as low as one percent, it is claimed.

The contractors share the same view that it would be difficult to defy those asking for the “tax” especially if the project is out in the field and far from the town centers where there is no police or Army presence.

“Dai man ninda kayang magtao nin security sa project site,” they said, unlike the really big contractors who can afford to hire expensive personal and company security personnel.

There are reports that in at least one town, NPA tax collectors have been targeting sari-sari stores, transport operators, businessmen and professionals, including teachers, with barangay officials are allegedly assessed P50 to P100 each month.

The reports could not be independently verified.

10-year-old boy killed in NPA attack

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jun 25): 10-year-old boy killed in NPA attack

A TEN-year-old child was killed by a bullet after suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) harassed the residence of an alleged government informant in Barangay PM Sobrecarey, Caraga, Davao Oriental.
Captain Rhyan Batchar, 10th Infantry Division Spokesperson, said based on the report they received at 12:30 a.m., Sunday, June 25, 12 fully armed NPA rebels, under Pulang Bagani Command 8, Southern Mindanao Regional Command, harassed the residence of Emmanuel Matilac, an alleged government informant.
Based on the report, the house of Matilac was burned down and a ten-year-old boy, Justin Adao, son of Leo Adao, who was also an alleged government informant by the NPA's, also died after the child was hit by a bullet on the head.
The rebels immediately fled the area after the attack. Batchar said the 67IB coordinated with the Municipal Police Station of Caraga for the conduct of thorough investigation for filing of cases against the rebels.

Another NPA fighter surrenders to Army battalion

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 25): Another NPA fighter surrenders to Army battalion

Another communist rebel surrendered to Army’s 81st Infantry Battalion last week at its headquarters at Sta. Cruz, Ilocos Sur.

The name of the said surrenderer was withheld pending the processing of his status.

Lt. Col. Eugenio Julio C. Osias IV, the commander of the 81st IB, said the former New People’s Army (NPA) fighter turned in a M1 Garand rifle.

Osias said the rebel is a member of the NPA’s Militiang Bayan (MB) that operates in the boundaries of Abra, Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur.

He is the eighth rebel to surrender to the 81st IB this year.

In an interview, he claimed that what drove enticed him to surrender was the help the former rebels received under the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) and the security that the 81st IB gave to the surrendering NPA cadres.

Major General Angelito M. De Leon, commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division said, “This is the time where the Army is gaining its momentum in yielding surrenderees with the help of the Government in reintegrating them back to the mainstream of society is much needed to sustain the trust. We will continue to help these former rebels to live in peace again.”

Cops foil NPA attack on police detachment in Zambales

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 26): Cops foil NPA attack on police detachment in Zambales

Botolan, Zambales

Police in Zambales province foiled an attack on a police detachment in Botolan town at dawn on Monday.

Around 20 armed men were seen crawling toward the platoon base of the 2nd Maneuver Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) in Barangay Taugtog at about 1 a.m., said SPO1 Larry Deliguin, investigator at Botolan Police Station.

Deliguin said PPSC personnel opened fire at the armed men, forcing them to retreat.

Police said the armed men were last seen headed toward Sitio (subvillage) Bihawo.

No one was reported hurt. The police said the group could be members of the New People’s Army, but at press time the communist rebels have not confirmed they were behind the attempted assault.

Deliguin said the police and army soldiers military were tracking down the armed group.

Another ‘Marawi’ foiled in Cotabato

From The Standard (Jun 26): Another ‘Marawi’ foiled in Cotabato

THE military foiled a plan by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters to launch a Marawi-like siege on Cotabato City, a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Sunday.

“The BIFF was able to mobilize maybe about 200 men plus more than 100 men from different private and criminal armed groups to launch a siege in Cotabato City. But they could not cross military lines so they just terrorized communities in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato,” a military commander based in Central Mindanao said.

The senior officer asked to go unnamed because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

On June 21, BIFF rebels attacked a school in Barangay Malagakit and took civilian hostages and used them as human shields when the military and police responded to the attack. The gunmen also shot dead a militiaman and destroyed a Christian church before they fled.

The military quickly dismissed speculation that the attack was a spillover from Marawi City, but said it could have been a diversionary tactic to distract the military in Marawi.

The BIFF, founded by the late Ameril Umbra Kato, was known for its alliance with local terrorists groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups. The government had also declared the BIFF a terrorist group for coddling foreign terrorists and for supporting the Islamic State.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. AFP file photo

Based on an intelligence report, a copy of which was obtained by Manila Standard, the BIFF was among “other possible threat groups” that could conduct terrorist acts in some parts of Central Mindanao while government forces were focused on defeating the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi.

“The BIFF’s plans will be mostly launched in Maguindanao and Cotabato City,” the report said.

A total of seven improvised explosive devices made of 60mm mortar shells with handheld radios as detonators were already transported to the city more than a week before the Marawi siege.

“These IEDs were manufactured during the second week of May,” the report said.

It added that the BIFF plan was in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao; to support the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups’ siege in Marawi; and retaliation for military operations during the past months.

The military might have foiled a Cotabato City siege but it is closely monitoring the deployment of some BIFF elements in the Davao region.

“The monitored presence of BIFF elements in Davao region suggests that they could have established networks in the area as well as focused their activities on trainings to enhance their military capabilities,” the source said.

The military was doing everything to avert “test mission bombings” after these BIFF training and surveillance activities.

It said key cities, including Davao, are “probable targets” of these terror acts.

Sources said a BIFF plan to conduct a series of bombings in Davao City last February was averted.

They said BIFF members conducted training on casing, surveillance and counter-surveillance for 28 people.

Bloodied and broken: Rising toll of Philippines' war with ISIS

From CNN (Jun 26): Bloodied and broken: Rising toll of Philippines' war with ISIS

During the rainy season on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, storms are foreshadowed by flashes of lightning in the distance, visible above the treetops.

When the rain finally comes, it is a vicious, torrential downpour, which ends as abruptly as it begins.
While the rains come and go, the flow of wounded into a military hospital in the north of the island does not. Just as two ambulances pull into the hospital at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro, the skies once again open up, muddying the dirt courtyard. They discharge yet another 10 soldiers, wounded in what is becoming a bloody, protracted insurgency by ISIS-affiliated militants.
Lt. Col. Jonna Dalaguit, the facility's chief medical officer, looks exhausted from the constant stream of broken men who are ferried into her hospital, brought in displaying the wounds of war -- "bullet wounds, blast wounds, fractures," she tells CNN.
"We have (admitted around) 330 casualties since day two of this crisis." It's the worst count she's ever seen.
It's been like this for a month, since ISIS-aligned fighters stormed the northern Mindanao city of Marawi, capturing key government buildings and setting fire to churches and schools.
In the weeks that followed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have slowly clawed back territory in the city, but a stubborn remnant of around 100 fighters clings to a handful of inner city neighborhoods, despite a sustained -- and some argue indiscriminate -- campaign of government airstrikes reducing much of the city to rubble.
High human cost
The siege, which appears to have taken authorities by surprise, has come at a high human cost -- ISIS has killed at least 66 Philippines soldiers and wounded hundreds more since the conflict began. It's the highest military death toll in recent Philippines history.
It's so overcrowded at Camp Evangelista that around 30 soldiers, who aren't in critical condition, lie in camp beds in an open-air hallway. From here they watch their comrades, bloodied and broken, rushed in from the battle.
The troops occupying the beds here, and throughout the wards, bring back stories from the front.
One, who cannot be named for military reasons, painfully levers himself up, to prop himself against the side of his hospital bed. He lowers his sweatpants to show the stained bandages which cover much of the back of his thighs.
He was on the battlefield earlier this month, clearing buildings in the city with his team. His point man's weapon jammed, he said, and when he went to help him clear it, he was struck by an IED.
"I saw the ignition for a split second and turned," he said. "The (armored) vest protected me but not my legs."
He suffered extensive burns in the attack; his teammate was also wounded. Another bomb went off when the recovery team went in to extract them.
He was one of the relatively lucky ones. He says four members of his unit -- his friends -- have died in the past month, and he saw civilian bodies on the streets when the army first went in to take back the city.
More than 330 casualties have been admitted to the Camp Evangelista military hospital in Cagayan de Oro since Philippines forces started trying to push ISIS fighters from Marawi on May 23.
The militants this time are much more organized and "wiser" than in previous encounters, he says -- they've learned urban combat tactics honed in ISIS-held territory in the Middle East, he says.
"They're using tactics from Iraq and Syria now -- IEDs, RPGs."
The minarets of the city's mosques, not too long ago used by imams to call the faithful to prayer, now serve as deadly ISIS sniper nests.
Another soldier, whose mother quietly cleans his wounds as he lies in his bed, tells CNN that, as well as importing ISIS' urban guerrilla tactics, they ape the AFP's methods, and are fearless in carrying out counterattacks.
"We have mortars, they have mortars already," he says. "And they are ready to die."
Filipinos are used to the torrential summer rains, but they do not hold out much hope that this vicious insurgency, which has erupted with a ferocity unseen here before, will end as quickly.
Early warnings
Like the low thunder that precedes Mindanao's downpours, there have been rumblings of Islamist uprisings on the island for some time. Armed extremist groups have been in Mindanao -- the only part of the Philippines archipelago with a sizable Muslim population -- since at least the 1970s.
Over time disagreements and regional factionalism took hold and individual groups have separately carried out bombings, kidnappings and other atrocities with little central organization, mostly in areas of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a collection of Muslim-majority provinces and cities in the region.
It was only with the rise of Isnilon Hapilon, a commander in the Abu Sayyaf Group of Basilan, an island in the south, that some form of reconciliation came about.
Hapilon, a wiry extremist in his early 50s, was named emir of Southeast Asia by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2016 and has since set about uniting the region's extremists.
Abu Sayyaf commander Isnllon Hapilon, seen here in a screen grab from a militant-released video, leading jihadis while holding an ISIS flag.
Abu Sayyaf commander Isnllon Hapilon, seen here in a screen grab from a militant-released video, leading jihadis while holding an ISIS flag.
In a matter of months, he has gathered as many as 14 groups under the black banner of ISIS, according to Rommel Banlaoi, a terrorism expert with the Philippines Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research monitoring group. The Marawi operation represents the first time these forces have banded together to fight under the ISIS flag.
"I don't think we've ever seen an alliance like this that has shown the military capacity to take over a city, or to mount an operation that has anything approaching the complexity of this one," Sidney Jones, the Indonesia-based director of the Institute for Policy and Analysis of Conflict told CNN.
She says the difference lies in the appeal of the ISIS ideology -- "the fact that these very disparate groups subscribe to and have been attracted by the idea of a single Islamic state for the entire world."
Tight controls

Mindanao is under martial law and the closer to the epicenter of the violence, the stricter the controls are. At a checkpoint on a road into Iligan City, around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Marawi, civilians on foot and on public transport line up to pass into the city cordon.

Many of the thousands who pass through each day are former residents of the stricken city, and the checkpoints are another daily reminder of their hometown's parlous situation.
At the barrier, passengers disembark from their jeepneys and line up in the June sun, slowly shifting forward towards makeshift awnings set up by the police and military. There, they are treated brusquely by troops on edge and fearful of bombings or other attacks.
After waiting their turn, they display their ID cards and move on. If they don't have documentation -- and many lost everything when fleeing the city -- they write their personal details in a log book. One commuter, Alfie Pitogo, tells CNN it is an annoyance but it's worth being inconvenienced if it keeps the city safe.
Troops and police officers are on the hunt for suspected militants and escaped convicts from the jailbreak that the terrorists conducted at the beginning of their bloody campaign. Posters featuring mugshots of suspected militants and escaped convicts hang under the awnings.
One pedestrian is pulled out of line and brought in front of a laptop, which takes his picture and uses facial recognition software to compare him to the dozens of images of wanted men. No match is made, so he is told he can continue on his way.
Civilians entering the city of Iligan in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao have their documents checked by police and military personnel on June 21, 2017.
Hundreds of thousands flee
The crisis in Marawi has forced almost 350,000 to flee city and surrounding areas, creating a humanitarian crisis the government is struggling to contain.
Many have sought shelter with relatives and friends outside the city, but thousands of others have crammed into makeshift camps for internally displaced people (IDP).
Local councilor Henry Cabilin tells CNN there are over a thousand IDPs in his "barangay" -- the Tagalog word for neighborhood -- alone. The number of men and women are about equal, but 80% are Muslim and 20% Christian.
The crisis in Marawi has sparked a  humanitarian situation, which the local government is struggling to contain.
Ahead of a visit by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to one such camp, at the National School of Fisheries in Barangay Buruan in nearby Iligan, a young mother sat on a thin rug, clutching her newborn. He was born in Marawi on May 23, as the battle for the city raged outside.
"While I was giving birth I could hear the gunfire but we didn't run for safety," Tarhata Musarip tells CNN.
Tarhata Musarip's baby was born as the fight for Marawi raged outside. She called him Martial Law, in recognition of the events surrounding his birth.
Tarhata Musarip's baby was born as the fight for Marawi raged outside. She called him Martial Law, in recognition of the events surrounding his birth.
"It was time for me to give birth. When my husband arrived at about 6 p.m., that's when I delivered the baby. At 7 p.m., we left our home and sought shelter at another house, a higher one because ours was just made of wood, like a small hut."
She named the infant Martial Law, a nod to Duterte's decision to put the island under military lockdown. "He was born when we evacuated and then President Duterte announced he was going to declare martial law," she says. "So I decided to name him Martial.
"With God's mercy, my baby is fine. He's been vaccinated and able to breastfeed. When we first arrived, my knees were shaky. I've been able to recover."
Nothing to celebrate
Rohayma Macarimbor said an ISIS fighter gave her water as she fled Marawi.
Rohayma Macarimbor said an ISIS fighter gave her water as she fled Marawi.
At another IDP center across town in Barangay Maria Christina, Rohayma Macarimbor tells CNN she fled Marawi on foot three days after fighting began. The 55-year-old Muslim woman was on her way of the city when she encountered a truck full of ISIS-aligned militants. Terrified they would kill her and her companions, she said she tried to avoid their gaze but one called out to her in Arabic.
Having previously worked in Saudi Arabia, she understood that he was trying to reassure her. He offered her water, which she thought would be poisoned but, raging with thirst, she eventually drank it.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Macarimbor said the timing of the attack on her city was especially galling, as it came at the start of Ramadan, what should be a peaceful time for Muslims everywhere.
Sunday saw the festival of Eid, which marks the end of the month of fasting, but those in the camps have nothing to celebrate.
"I (used to) look forward to Eid," she said.
"I cook many dishes, different and delicious ones, to celebrate the end of Ramadan, but this will not happen anymore."

Former US general David Petraeus says Australia should be worried about ISIS in the Philippines

From the Business Insider Australia (Jun 26): Former US general David Petraeus says Australia should be worried about ISIS in the Philippines

 Filipino troops in Marawi. Photo: Jes Aznar/ Getty Images
Retired US general and former CIA chief David Petraeus says the war in the Philippines is “a big concern” for Australia.

Just over five weeks ago, pro-Islamic militants took control of Marawi City, on a southern island of the country, and has since occupied it with as many as 500 fighters.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have been fighting to dislodge them without success. More than 350 people have died since the fighting broke out.
“This is not a problem that can be resolved in years but in decades, and one where Australia could take the lead,” Petraeus told Fairfax Media.
“A point that political leaders have to communicate is that this is a generational struggle.”
Philippines president Rodriguez Duterte had planned to have the fighting ended by the end of Ramadan but has failed to come through on some of the measures he promised to undertake in order to wipe out the militants, including “carpet bombing” the city.
Petraeus says the war is a result of inconsistent surveillance, by local and international authorities, of terrorism networks.
“Collectively, a lot of us – including the Philippines government, which was concentrating its efforts on counter-narcotics – took our eye off that particular ball. It shows you have to have a sustained commitment.”

Last week the Australian government announced that the RAAF will be flying two P-3 Orion aircrafts over the Philippines to help the country’s military fight the militants.
The planes specialised in advanced intelligence-gathering.

“The regional threat from terrorism, in particular from Daesh [Islamic State] and foreign fighters, is a direct threat to Australia and our interests,” defence minister Marisa Payne said at the time.

Philippine military needs main battle tanks – MaxDefense

Posted to Update Philippines (Jun 26): Philippine military needs main battle tanks – MaxDefense

With the difficulties the Philippine military is facing in the ongoing Marawi City crisis, MaxDefense Philippines is recommending the acquisition of main battle tanks. MaxDefense is suggesting refurbished Israeli tanks to quickly address the need.

“These tanks will be useful for events similar to Marawi, while also useful to train the Philippine Army in armor and combined arms operations while new tanks are being eyed for Horizons 2 and 3 stages,” MaxDefense said in a post in its social networking page today.

It can be recalled that during the early days of Marawi City crisis, Maute terrorists are reportedly launching rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) against Philippine Army’s armoured fighting vehicles.

“With the painful experience of the Philippine Army in Marawi City of not having a vehicle with heavy armor and firepower to provide troops fighting in urban warfare, they [should] consider [acquiring] a few main battle tanks, a company of less than 20 units plus accompanying [support] vehicles would be enough for now,” MaxDefense said.

MaxDefense said “the fastest course will be sourcing the tanks from Israel, which may be able to deliver them within a few months.”

He is recommending Israeli Merkava II or Magach 7.

Czech Republic, Philippines forge Defense Cooperation Agreement

From Update Philippines (Jun 26): Czech Republic, Philippines forge Defense Cooperation Agreement

The Republic of the Philippines and Czech Republic have entered into a Defense Cooperation Agreement. The historic signing of agreement was conducted in Prague on May 29 2017.

Undersecretary for Defense Policy Ricardo A. David Jr. signed the agreement in behalf of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, while Deputy Minister for Defense Policy and Strategy Division Jakub Landovsky signed for the Czech side.

“Convinced that bilateral cooperation shall help both countries in the understanding of their respective military issues and consolidate defense capabilities, the two countries signed the agreement at the Czech Ministry of Defense in Prague,” the Department of National Defense (DND) said.

“The cooperation aims to develop Defense and Security Policy, Procurement Policy and Defense Industry, Defense Logistics, Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Operations, Compliance to Treaties on Defense, Security and Arms Control, Armed Forces Organization, Structure, Equipment and Personnel Management, Military Training and Education and other activities as may be agreed upon,” DND added.

DND said defense cooperation between two nations is not entirely new.

“During World War II, Czech shoe makers from Bata Industry in Manila volunteered to join the USAFFE and fought alongside Filipino and American forces against the Japanese,” DND said.

No terror threat in Visayas: official

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 26): No terror threat in Visayas: official

The Army commander of the 802nd Brigade based in Ormoc City stressed that despite the presence of armed men in the Visayas, there was no direct threat of terror attacks.

The whole of Visayas is still at Level 1 for terror alert, which means it is not facing threat for any terror attack, Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza Jr. said in a telephone interview Friday.

There are armed men, yes. NPAs (New People's Army) are armed. But no threat for terrorism,” he stressed.

Following the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao a month ago, various reports reached their office concerning the presence of armed men in different areas, pictured as similar to “terror attackers” in Marawi. Mendoza refuted these, saying all were hearsays.

“All information reaching our office that may pose imminent danger to peace and security are right away verified. So far, these are just hearsays”, Mendoza said.

“As we receive the information, we verify it. But up to now, no firsthand informant has ever drawn details. All of them could not give light to the information spreading around and cannot pinpoint who really met what they referred to as ‘armed' men',” he added.

NPA owns up killing of ex-Army intel man

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jun 26): NPA owns up killing of ex-Army intel man

The Leonardo Panaligan Command of the New People's Army in central Negros has claimed responsibility for the liquidation of former Philippine Army Sgt. Ronnie Montejo in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental on June 20.

Ka JB Regalado, spokesperson of the Leonardo Panaligan Command, in a statement issued by the local rebel group, accused Montejo of involvement in multiple murder cases, in the deaths of their two comrades, “Ka Keven” and “Ka Roselyn Pelle”, and injuries to one another one, in 2001.

Regalado also linked Montejo to the capture of two other NPA members, being a former intelligence operative of the 11th Infantry Battalion.

He also charged Montejo of harassing some farmers and residents in barangays Lumapao and Malaiba in Canlaon City.

Montejo was riding a motorcycle when he was gunned down by three suspects, believed to be members of the NPA Special Partisan Unit, two days after the rebel group also raided a police station in Maasin town, Iloilo.

This was followed by the ambush of two civilians in Barangay Minapasok, Calatrava, Negros Occidental, also suspected to be perpetrated by the NPA in northern Negros, military records showed.

The Army's 3rd Infantry Division has condemned the killing of two civilians, as well as Montejo, which they described as a “barbaric act”.

Regalado, on the other hand, congratulated the NPA team that had carried out the killing of Montejo, as ordered by the revolutionary court.

Battle resumes as Eid'l Fitr truce ends in Marawi

From Rappler (Jun 26): Battle resumes as Eid'l Fitr truce ends in Marawi

5 trapped civilians are rescued during the 8-hour ceasefire, including a mother and her 16-month-old daughter   


The 8-hour ceasefire in Marawi allowing residents to celebrate the end of Ramadan came to an abrupt end on Sunday afternoon, June 25, as the government continued its offensive against Maute Group terrorists occupying parts of the war-torn city.

Assaults backed by air and artillery bombardment had stopped at the start of Islamic prayers at 6 am but gunfire broke out as soon as the truce ended around 2 pm, Agence France-Presse reporters in Marawi said.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez said the truce also allowed 5 Muslim religious leaders to enter ground zero and negotiate with the terrorists to release civilian hostages, especially children, women, and the elderly.

"It's already been more than 30 days [of fighting] and we received reports that some of them have nothing to eat," Galvez said.

The negotiators later Sunday emerged from the conflict zone with 5 civilians, including a mother and her 16-month-old daughter.

The woman said she had given birth to another child just two weeks ago in the middle of the fighting but her infant boy died due to lack of food, according to police who interviewed her.

A video released by the military showed the rescued residents looking terrified, pale, and haggard.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año ordered his forces to observe a "humanitarian pause" during the Eid'l Fitr holiday in Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The Eid'l Fitr festival ends the fasting month of Ramadan.

"We declare a lull in our current operations in the city on that day as a manifestation of our high respect to the Islamic faith," Año said in a statement.

Hundreds of terrorists, flying the flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) group and backed by foreign fighters, seized swathes of Marawi in the southern region of Mindanao last month, sparking bloody street battles and raising regional concern.

Troops have launched a relentless air and ground offensive but have failed to dislodge gunmen from entrenched positions in pockets of the city.

'Saddest Eid celebration'

Much of the lakeside city is now in ruins while most of its 200,000 residents have fled to evacuation centers or to the homes of relatives and friends in other towns.

An emotional Sunday prayer was held away from the conflict zone in Marawi, with several Muslim worshippers breaking down, including the imam, television footages showed.

"This is the saddest Eid celebration in recent memory," Zia Alonto Adiong, crisis management committee spokesperson, said in a Facebook post.

"It pains us to see families who can’t even share meals together, pray together," he said, blaming the terrorists for the turmoil.

At Iligan just north of Marawi, evacuees dressed in colorful flowing robes marked the end of Ramadan by holding prayers on the grounds of city hall, with armed police commandos standing guard.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Sunday a Philippine Navy ship, the BRP Davao del Sur, was sent to Cotabato south of Marawi to bring supplies for soldiers involved in the fighting and serve as a floating hospital for the wounded.

Civilians trapped

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said around 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where the fighting is concentrated.

Nearly 300 terrorists and 67 troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.

Military officials have said troops are having difficulty because the terrorists are using civilians as human shields.

Last May 23, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across all of Mindanao to quell what he described as a rebellion aimed at establishing an ISIS caliphate in the area. (READ: 20 ISIS cell groups operate in Mindanao – Calida)

Foreign fighters, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia, and Malaysia, are among those killed in the Marawi conflict.

A senior military commander said on Saturday, June 24, that Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Marawi attack and one of America's most wanted terrorists, may have slipped out of the city. (READ: What ISIS follower Isnilon Hapilon's transcripts reveal about his childhood)

Regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said Sunday the military was still checking the report.

"He (Hapilon) is not being heard or monitored commanding troops on the ground," Herrera said in Marawi.

Australia has sent two high-tech surveillance planes to help Filipino troops in Marawi, joining the United States in providing military assistance. (READ: Duterte on U.S. aid in Marawi: 'Nagpapasalamat na rin ako')

Abducted priest seen alive as Mautes hold out in Marawi

From Rappler (Jun 26): Abducted priest seen alive as Mautes hold out in Marawi

Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub, a Catholic priest assigned to Marawi, was seen alive in a part of the city still in the hands of the Maute Group, the military says

STILL ALIVE. Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub has been one of the hostages by local terrorists in Marawi City since May 23. File photo by PIA Lanao del Sur on Facebook

STILL ALIVE. Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub has been one of the hostages by local terrorists in Marawi City since May 23. File photo by PIA Lanao del Sur on Facebook

A Roman Catholic priest abducted by terrorists who seized parts Marawi City has been seen alive, the military said Monday, June 26, as troops pressed on with their offensive.

Air and artillery bombardment of enclaves occupied by the Maute Group in the largely Muslim city of Marawi resumed after an 8-hour truce Sunday, June 25, to allow residents to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the militants were deliberately burning houses and using improvised bombs, booby traps and hostages as human shields to delay the troops' advance, five weeks into the fighting.

Hundreds of gunmen flying the black flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) group occupied parts of Marawi on May 23, triggering bloody fighting that has claimed nearly 400 lives according to an official count.

Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub, a Catholic priest assigned to Marawi, was taken hostage along with some parishioners early in the siege.

Herrera, spokesman for the military forces in Marawi, said the priest had been seen alive on Sunday in a part of the city still in the hands of the extremists.

"We don't have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive," he told reporters, citing accounts from civilians rescued from the battle zone.

He also said there were about 100 civilian hostages still in the hands of the gunmen, being used as "human shields", ammunition carriers and stretcher-bearers.
Fighting resumed with renewed fury on Monday, with government fighter jets and other aircraft seen carrying out bombing attacks.

"Our offensive operations have resumed and will continue so we can liberate Marawi at the soonest time possible," Herrera said at a news conference in Marawi.

He said the bodies of two militants believed to be from the Middle East because of their physical features were found at the scene of an earlier airstrike, another sign that foreign fighters had joined the battle.

"These foreign terrorists involved in the hostilities are bomb experts. They are the ones facilitating the rigging of the buildings and houses with bombs," Herrera said.

Eight foreign fighters, including those from Chechnya, Indonesia and Malaysia, were killed in the early days of the battle, the government has said.

Herrera said they were still trying to confirm reports that Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of ISIS in Southeast Asia, had escaped Marawi despite a military and police cordon.

An attempt by troops to arrest Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered the rampage by the militants.

Hapilon was indicted in Washington for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines. He has a $5 million bounty on his head from the US government and is on its "most wanted" terror list.

Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi

From Rappler (Jun 26): Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi

We tell the story of a family behind a homegrown terrorist group that most effectively spread the ISIS ideology in the Philippines.

At least a decade ago, in 2007, the intelligence community in the Philippines was already watching Marawi City residents Cayamora Maute and his wife Farhana.

The parents of the now notorious "Maute Brothers", who are responsible for the ongoing clashes in their homeland, were coddling visiting operatives of Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), according to an intelligence report obtained by Rappler.

The well-connected couple who has homes and businesses in Marawi City and Butig town in Lanao del Sur and Quezon City helped the terrorists move personnel, funds, and supplies. They used as front Farhana’s commodity trading business in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Back in those days, Al Qaeda was the world’s biggest terrorist network and JI was a member. It was notorious for the worst act of terror in the world’s biggest Muslim country, the 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200.

The military used the Maute couple as tracers, according to a military officer privy to the operations, to detect activities of the JI operatives here.

PATRIARCH AND MATRIARCH. Cayamora (L) and Farhana (R) Maute, parents of the notorious Maute Brothers. Sourced photo

The year 2012 was significant. The Mautes led the military to Ustadz Sanusi, one of 7 JI members who sought refuge in Mindanao. The terrorist allegedly involved in the 2005 beheading of 3 Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia was killed inside the compound of the Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi. (READ: PH military says Indonesian terrorist killed)

An intelligence report said Sanusi was found in a house there owned by Mohammad Khayyam Maute, one of the many sons of Cayamora and Farhana who would 5 years later wreak havoc in the city they grew up in.

It seemed the military had relaxed on the Maute family after Sanusi’s death in 2012. Little did they know that the sons would soon bring into the country the ideology of a terrorist group even more radical than Al Qaeda.

Omar Khayyam and Abdullah are the known leaders of the so-called “Maute Brothers” of the “Maute Group”, although they prefer the name Dawla Islamiyah. Both are believed to have been radicalized in the Middle East. Omar Khayyam completed Islamic Studies at Al-azhar University in Egypt. Abdullah also finished his Islamic Studies in Jordan, according to intelligence reports.

Omar is believed to be the brains behind the group while Abdullah serves as the commander of its military operations, athough a video shows even Mohammad contributed to this role.

We tell the story of a well-connected family behind a homegrown terrorist group that most effectively spread the ISIS ideology in the Philippines. This account is based on information from the intelligence community and multiple interviews with security officers, local officials, and residents of the two communities they sought to seize – Butig and Marawi City.

Beginnings of the 'Maute Brothers'

LEADERS. Omar and Abdullah Maute are the known leaders of the so-called Maute Brothers.

It was also about the year 2012 when the Maute brothers began to display their extemist ideology and tendency for violence, according to Marawi residents interviewed by Rappler.

They were believed to be members of a violent clique that started out attacking gays in the city, warning them to “stop what you are doing." Later, the group progressed to killing soldiers.

Samira Gutoc, back then an Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) assemblywoman and MSU regent, told Rappler how she asked the local police and military to investigate violence in the university. She said she was horrified to see pictures of “young men in turbans” responsible for attacks against victims who were all Christians.

Residents now say that these were the beginnings of the Maute Group. But the military had relegated them to the sidelines, it appeared, as the following year would become one of the most challenging times for the country.

In between the May 2013 midterm elections, Filipinos attacked Sabah in February, followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari seized villages in Zamboanga City in September, a massive earthquake hit Bohol in October, and a super typhoon hit Eastern Visayas in November.

Raising the ISIS black flag in Butig

The sons of Cayamora and Farhana regained the attention of the country’s security apparatus in 2014 when they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), the more violent incarnate of Al Qaeda.

But it was in 2016 when they earned their now notorious name "Maute Brothers" after they attacked a military detachment and killed two soldiers in nearby Butig, the hometown of Farhana.

'For me, this is not jihad. They are after power and wealth by destroying the community,' says Mayor Jimmy Pansar of Butig, Lanao del Sur.

At least 4 military operations – Haribon 1, 2, 3 – were launched in Butig against the Maute Brothers in 2016. In April, they mimicked ISIS executions when they beheaded two Christian sawmill workers whom they dressed with orange clothes. In November, they flew the ISIS black flag at the town hall.

The Maute Group would also be blamed for the September 2, 2016 Davao City bombing that killed at least 15 people.

It was in Butig where Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called prince of ISIS in Southeast Asia, would join the Maute Group in December 2016 to supposedly hatch a plan to establish a caliphate in Central Mindanao, according to the government.

The military demonstrated its force against their combined forces, deploying the brand new fighter jets of the air force for the first time to conduct surgical air strikes.

In the middle of military operations, President Rodrigo Duterte traveled to a town adjacent to Butig to plead to local leaders to shun the ISIS ideology. "Alam ninyo ‘yung Maute, if they are inspired doon sa ISIS, magkaleche-leche ang buhay natin (You know, if the Maute is inspired by ISIS, we will all be in trouble)," Duterte said in a speech there.

But his emissaries to the Maute Group failed to talk them out of their plans.

When the clashes started in Marawi, Duterte immediately declared martial law in Mindanao.

TROOP VISIT. President Rodrigo Duterte visits troops running after the Maute Group in Butig, Lanao del Sur in November 2016. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

ISIS 'grand plan'

The military thought Hapilon was severely wounded in Butig and perhaps dead. But he would show up in Marawi City on May 23. They raided the safe house in Barangay Basak Malutlut, where they found him, but failed yet again to snare him.

What surprised them was the reaction of Marawi residents. The recruits of the Maute Brothers – supposed ISIS cells in the city – sprung out of the streets to conduct simultaneous attacks in the city. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)

While the military ran after the leaders, local politicians and their families took their guns to defend city hall and the capitol from the terrorists who wanted to raise the ISIS black flag there.

A video seized from a safe house in Basak Malutlut shows Hapilon and the Maute Brothers planning an attack on Marawi. Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said they wanted to seize the city and declare it an Islamic caliphate on the 1st day of Ramadan. The grand plan, he said, is to replicate how ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Bhagdadi took the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014.

PLANNING THE ATTACK. Screenshot of a video the military recovered from a Maute safe house showing them planning an attack in Marawi City.

The video also shows, according to Año, that the Maute Brothers were on top of the operations even as they recognized Hapilon as the ISIS emir.

Año said that while the military raid failed to snag Hapilon on May 23, it succeeded in foiling their plan to seize Marawi City.

The Marawi crisis has entered its 2nd month. On May 25, the Islamic city celebrated its saddest Eid celebration with most of its 200,000 residents away from their homes, some living in squalid evacuation centers.

“This fighting brought by the local militant group robbed us of the chance to observe Ramadan peacefully and stole from us the opportunity to celebrate Eid’l Fitr and to be with our loved ones on the religious occasion,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, the spokesman of the crisis management committee.

As of Saturday, June 24, the clashes have killed at least 69 soldiers, 280 terrorists, and 26 civilians. Many houses have been bombed or burned. (READ: One month of Marawi clashes: Death toll now 375)

Connected but opposed to the MILF

After Sanusi’s death, the Maute family went into hiding in Butig because they were supposedly afraid they would be arrested for coddling the foreign terrorist, according to an intelligence report prepared after the Butig attacks.

The mountainous hometown of Farhana is where Camp Bushra is located, one of the biggest camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s dominant Muslim rebel group that has been fighting for self-rule in Mindanao.

'At the core of the Maute Group is the radical ideology supporting ISIS. They will not kill themselves for money or power alone,' a local official tells Rappler.

Butig saw massive military operations in the 2000 all-out war waged by then president Joseph Estrada. It would enjoy relative quiet since the MILF began talks with the government to create a new Bangsamoro region envisioned to replace, and have more powers than, the existing ARMM.

The Maute Brothers would disturb this peace when they brought the war to Butig. The military offensives also destroyed houses, buildings, and government offices, as well as displaced thousands of residents.

The Maute family is well connected to the MILF hierarchy, but they have long opposed its leadership and the peace process it pushed.

Cayamora Maute, an engineer, previously served the MILF engineering bureau, according to an intelligence report. But it’s Farhana who is practically royalty. She belongs to the distinguished political Romato clan, which intermarried with the Mimbantas who ruled the MILF for decades.

The Maute brothers are the first cousins of Azisa Romato, the wife of the late MILF vice chairman for military affairs Abdulaziz Mimbantas. Mohammad Khayyam is also married to a Mimbantas daughter – it was in their house where Sanusi was killed, according to an intelligence report.

In Marawi, son Abdullah Maute is married to a sister of former mayor Pre Salic. Salic and his brother Omar "Solitario" Ali, also a former mayor, are among the politicians the government singled out for helping the Maute Brothers. They are facing charges of rebellion.

The links to influential families grew through marriages with families not only in Butig and Marawi but also in nearby Masiu, where Farhana sought refuge and was arrested at the height of the clashes.

These relations have triggered suspicions against the MILF despite the rebel group having cooperated with the military in its offensives.

But the positions are clear. The MILF has categorically opposed the ISIS ideology that the Maute Group promoted.

The blood ties, however, have allowed the Maute Group to recruit among MILF clans, especially among the “second generation MILF” or the children of its members “do not listen to their elders.”


The Maute Group exploited the growing weariness of young Muslims over the continued failure of government to deliver on its promises pertaining to the peace process.

There were many of them in Butig, Marawi, and other places in Mindanao. Successive disappointments with government made them susceptible to the radical ideology of ISIS and the need to take their own territory where they could establish a caliphate in Mindanao.

TRAINING. Child soldiers are taught to kill early on. Rappler sourced photo

In Butig and in Marawi, Rappler interviews showed that the recruitment strategy was almost the same. They spoke with residents about their ideology. Those who appeared open to the teachings were invited to discuss the ideology further. At a certain stage they were made to swear on the Koran and vow secrecy.

"Swearing on the Koran is sacred. You can't take your word back," said a Butig resident.

In Marawi, a lot of the recruitment was done on social media. In Butig, where there is no internet, it was face-to-face engagement. It was also in Butig where they brought fighters for training.

They also recruited children based on the promise that they would allow them to study the Koran. They turned them into fighters instead. (READ: I met a Maute soldier. He's a child.)

Butig Mayor Jimmy Pansar said most of the fighters in Butig were not residents. “Karamihan ng recruits from Marawi, Maguindanao, at Balik Islam.” (Most of the recruits were from Marawi, Maguindanao, and Islam converts.)

In Marawi, the fighters of the Maute Group were given a boost by Abu Sayyaf fighters and foreign fighters who took advantage of a Tabligh convention of Sunni Islamic missionaries to fly to Marawi City. Tabligh Jamaat is said to be a movement that calls on Muslims to return to Sunni Islam, the world's largest religious denomination.

The military said the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Ansarul Khalifa Philippines of Sarangani, the two other ISIS-linked terrorist groups, planned to reinforce the fighters in Marawi. (READ: 4 PH terror groups link up with pro-ISIS fighters in region)

War for wealth and power?

When Pansar was elected after two Maute attacks in 2016, among the first things he did was meet with the residents of Butig to discourage them from joining the terrorist group.

“After my assumption, I met with religious leaders and stakeholders – in addition to municipal officials and barangay chairman – to explain to the population that what they are doing is wrong. Most of the residents understood that. It’s not jihad, 101% it’s really wrong,” Pansar told Rappler in an interview back in December.

He was 5 months into his term, in November 2016, when the Maute Group succeeded in raising the ISIS black flag in Butig. It’s what the terrorist group also wanted to do in Marawi City.

MOST WANTED. These photos of the Mautes are displayed in checkpoints in Lanao provinces.

A common denominator between the group’s biggest attack in Butig and the siege of Marawi City, according to residents, is this: the sitting mayors are not Maute allies.

“For me, this is not jihad. They are after power and wealth by destroying the community,” said Pansar.

The Maute has received foreign funding, mostly believed to have been coursed through Farhana. Malaysia's most wanted terrorist Mahmud Ahmad also channeled at least P30 million ($600,000) to finance the attack, according to Año.

Duterte himself had claimed that narco-politics helped fund the Maute Group, fitting the conflict into the narrative of his war on drugs. Residents are not dismissing this.

Here lies a truth about conflicts in Mindanao. Families join and support armed groups for various reasons – religion, pride, power, and wealth to name a few. It is dangerous to oversimplify the cause of conflict as one or another to fit a narrative that government wants to push.

Even the "emir" of ISIS in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group, belongs to an organization that kidnaps foreign hostages to rake in millions of ransom money. Occasionally, it uses the ISIS black flag to up the group's international profile. But the Abu Sayyaf itself has too many factions and Hapilon is known to have kept some ideology despite the banditry of his group.

Peace advocates argue that the Marawi crisis underscores the need to complete the peace process with the MILF to prevent more young Muslims from taking matters into their own hands.

"At the core of the Maute Group is the radical ideology supporting ISIS. They will not kill themselves for money or power alone," a local official told Rappler.

Urgency of peace talks with MILF

Like the young Muslims tired of war, the MILF leadership itself has expressed disappointment over the slow progress of the peace talks under Duterte. But their actions showed commitment to the peace process.

In Butig, the MILF ordered its fighters to give way and not intervene with military operations.

In Marawi, the MILF created "peace corridors" to assist trapped civilians trying to escape the war zone and help secure adjacent towns where the conflict could spill over.

As the battle rages in Marawi City, a new draft for a law that will create the Bangsamoro region has been submitted to Duterte. He is expected to endorse this to Congress when it resumes session in July

Peace advocates argue that the Marawi crisis underscores the need to complete the peace process with the MILF to prevent more young Muslims from taking matters into their own hands.

And while the military is confident they have defeated the terrorists in Marawi, the ISIS threat will not be obliterated even when the fighting in Marawi stops. As ISIS faces defeat and loses territory in the Middle East, the Asian fighters are expected to return and seek refuge back home.

A political solution to the Mindanao problem is urgent. There is no time to waste.