Malaysia’s ‘most wanted’ killed in Marawi: Officials
MANILA/JAKARTA: Malaysia’s most wanted, Mahmud Ahmad, was among 20 militants killed Wednesday and Thursday in the Philippine military’s offensive in Marawi City, military officials said.
The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Gen. Eduardo Ano, described the operation as “very positive.”
He added: “We were able to neutralize 13 (militants Wednesday night)… Early this (Thursday) morning, we were able to get seven more.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed the death of Ahmad, 39, an alleged financer of Maute militants.
The latest operation also resulted in the rescue of two civilians, a mother and daughter, who claim to have seen Ahmad among the slain terrorists, said AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
Ano said one of the rescued hostages revealed that Ahmad was immediately buried Wednesday night. “We’ll look for the cadaver,” said the AFP chief.
Ahmad’s reported killing comes four days after the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
Hapilon was Daesh’s designated leader for Southeast Asia, and was regarded by the US as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists.
Omar and his brother Abdullah formed the Maute group, which attacked and has held parts of Marawi City since May 23. Ahmad had been touted as Hapilon’s potential successor as Daesh’s emir in Southeast Asia.
Ahmad, who also went by the name Abu Handzalah, was a former university lecturer in Kuala Lumpur.
He was reportedly trained in an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, when he was a student at the Islamic International University in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Ahmad is suspected of channeling more than 30 million Philippine pesos ($600,000) from Daesh to fund the Marawi siege.
He was believed to be hiding in a building inside the main battle zone after the deaths of Hapilon and Omar.
Padilla described Ahmad as a “very significant asset” to local militants, as he was the one providing funds and serving as a conduit to Daesh. “He was the financier and logistical enabler, but not a fighter,” Padilla told Arab News.
A report released by the Indonesia-based Institute of Policy Analysis and Conflict (IPAC) in July cited Ahmad’s crucial role in how the chain of command functioned between Syria and Marawi.
“All foreigners wanting to join the East Asia Wilayah — as the command structure in Marawi refers to itself — had to go through Dr. Ahmad,” said the report.
“He also arranged for ISIS (Daesh) funding for the Marawi operations to be laundered through Indonesia, using operatives of Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD).”
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the Joint Task Group Ranao, said they have yet to retrieve all the bodies of the slain militants. The latest enemy casualties were due mostly to sniper shots, he added.
Brawner described enemy resistance as “organized” but now limited to urban terrain less than a hectare in size.
“They’ve established their defensive positions and are using hostages as human shields,” he said.
“Sometimes they (militants) would use them as bait. They’ll tell them to run down the road, and if they get fired at, that means there are soldiers where the shots are coming from.”
More than 20 militants are still in the area, according to the rescued hostages. Padilla predicts retaliatory attacks following the deaths of their leaders.
“We’re prepared. We’re monitoring potential areas where they might launch retaliatory attacks,” he said.
He identified the areas as Maguindanao, Cotabato, parts of Lanao Del Sur, Basilan, Jolo, Sulu, Tawi Tawi in Mindanao, and major cities including Metro Manila.
Meanwhile, Indonesian security forces remain on alert to thwart a spill-over of fighters from Marawi City to the country via its outermost northern islands, which share a sea border with the Philippines.
“We always anticipate the possible infiltration of militants from Marawi,” Indonesian police Brig. Gen. Hamidin, a senior official with Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told Arab News.
Hamidin said Ahmad established Katibah Al-Muhajir (Battalion of Migrants) in the southern Philippines, helping at least 40 Indonesians arrive there since 2016.
His men were familiar with using the island trail on the porous maritime border between the two countries, as they smuggled weapons that were used in the Jan. 14, 2016 terrorist attack in central Jakarta, Hamidin added.
The fighting in Marawi, which prompted Duterte to place Mindanao island under martial law, has left more than 1,000 dead, including 882 militants, 164 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians. More than 350,000 residents have been displaced.