By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

Omarkhayam Maute ‘more or less dead’ -- Año

Posted on June 23, 2017

THE military chief on Thursday said one of the two Maute brothers who have been leading the terror group affiliated with their family in the Marawi siege has been “more or less” killed by the military in the course of the bloody month-long standoff.

Philippine troops patrol a grassy area near the frontline in Marawi on June 19, 2017. AFP
Meanwhile, militants holed up in the besieged provincial capital of Lanao del Sur have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said on Thursday, even as the month-long battle for control of Marawi City raged on.

In a chance interview on the sidelines of a security meeting in Manila, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año said Omarkhayam “Omar” Maute was likely killed by pursuing state forces while his brother Abdullah Maute is still alive.

Si Omar Maute more or less patay na ito si Omar Maute. Abdullah [Maute] is still alive,” Mr. Año said.

Clashes between government forces and the pro-Islamic State (IS) Maute terrorist group erupted in Marawi on May 23 and has dragged on for a month now.

Security officials earlier said the military was “validating” reports that the Maute brothers had been killed, adding there are “strong indications” to that conclusion.

The Mautes had joined forces with Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the dreaded kidnapping-for-ransom gang Abu Sayyaf whom the IS reportedly appointed Southeast Asia’s “emir.”

Mr. Año said he believes Hapilon is still in Marawi despite unconfirmed reports that the terrorist leader may have already fled. “Si Hapilon is still inside,” he said.

The battle in Marawi erupted after the military raided an apartment where members of the IS-linked group Maute were holed up in order to serve Hapilon a warrant of arrest.

The US State Department has put up a $5-million bounty on Hapilon’s head for alleged terrorist acts against US citizens. Early this month, President Rodrigo R. Duterte offered an additional bounty of P10 million for the capture and neutralization of Hapilon on top of all existing monetary rewards from both Manila and Washington.

As of June 21, government casualties have risen to 67 while the number of enemies killed went up to 276, according to authorities. In the course of the crossfire, a total of 26 civilians have been killed by militants.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana earlier said eight foreign militants -- two Saudis, two Malaysians, two Indonesians, one Yemeni and a Chechen -- were among those killed by the military in Marawi.

Mr. Lorenzana said he believes the slain foreign gunmen were “ISIS members” -- referring to the other acronym of the Islamic State.

For his part, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu recently said there are 1,200 IS “killing machines” in the Philippines, a number that “came as a surprise” to the Philippine military.

Sought for clarification, Mr. Año said Mr. Ryacudu’s report refers to the total number of local jihadist fighters in Mindanao, which the military chief said could even reach up to 1,300.

Sa tingin nila, ISIS lahat ’yon. Pero sa atin hindi yan ISIS kasi mga locals ’yon eh (The Indonesian government thought all those local extremists were ISIS but they were not),” Mr. Año explained.

“Although they pledged allegiance to the ISIS but not in to or in 100% na ISIS na sila (they are not 100% ISIS),” he added.

There are 40 foreign fighters battling alongside Maute in Marawi, according to Mr. Año, and troops expect more would come to the Philippines as IS in the Middle East lose control over their strongholds following sustained bombardments by allied forces.

“So we expect na yung mga ma-displace doon pupunta ng Asia and because of the Marawi uprising parang magnet itong Pilipinas so iyon ang babantayan natin,” he said.

(So we expect that those displaced IS militants in the Middle East will go to Asia and because of the Marawi uprising, the Philippines has become a magnet for terrorists and we will prevent that.)

Mr. Duterte last Tuesday warned about “retaliatory moves” by IS in the Philippines “in the near future” because of the “inroads of ISIS into Mindanao.”

Jolted by the May 23 attack on Marawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region and their foreign ministers gathered in Manila on Thursday for talks.

In Mindanao, military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said on Thursday the number of militants holding out in Marawi had dwindled to “a little over 100.”

For his part, Lt. Col., Christopher Tampus said: “Their area has been reduced to 1 km. square only.” Mr. Tampus’s troops are blocking escape routes across bridges spanning a river to the west of the militants. “Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Mr. Tampus told reporters the militants were still using snipers who were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques, and homemade bombs were hampering the progress of Philippine troops as they advanced house by house. He said he had seen at least five civilians dressed in black who appeared to have been forced to stand in the street as human shields.

At Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City, inquest proceedings were conducted on three detained Maute group suspects who are facing rebellion charges, according to Justice Undersecretary Erickson H. Balmes in a text message to reporters.

The three -- Aljadid Pangompig, Romao alias Hadid, Farida Pangompig Romato, and Abdulrahman Serad Dimakatuh -- were arrested last June 18 while on board a 2GO vessel at the port of Iloilo, reportedly bound for Manila. -- with reports by Kristine Joy V. Patag and Reuters