Now we know from his identification by the military that the new chief or emir of the Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia is a Maranao called “Abu Dar,” succeeding the notorious Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed in the final days of the Marawi siege last year.
“Abu Dar,” from Pagawayan town in Lanao del Sur, has served as money courier for the Maute terrorist group that attacked Marawi City last year.
Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf leader who became the IS emir, was the subject of a military operation in May last year that led to the five-month siege of Marawi, the country’s Islamic capital. He was killed, along with Maute group leader Omarkhayam Maute, in an operation led by the Army’s Scout Rangers.
Very little is known about Abu Dar, except that he was one of Hapilon’s sub-leaders and that his parents and relatives were also in Pagawayan town, a small, fifth-class municipality between lakes Lanao and Dapao.
Abu Dar is said to be less radical than Hapilon, although he allegedly maintains contact with foreign jihadists.
That it took quite a while for the IS to install a new emir in the region should be an indication that the violent extremist group remains in the process of consolidation after its tragic and costly defeat in Marawi City.
As The Manila Times had reported in a series of exclusives, the Maute men are hell-bent on regrouping and recruiting more adherents, and this act is known to Australian and American counter-terrorism officials.
The capture of alleged Maute sub-leader Abdul Nasser Lomondot by the Manila Police District over the weekend on Recto Avenue in Manila is a sign that the government is on top of the situation.
Lomondot is said to be among at least 313 “remnants” of the Maute group that escaped Marawi City after the siege.
Of the 313, 10 are sub-leaders, including Lomondot, according to the military.
Lomondot’s arrest is important, given that he participated in the killing of innocent civilians and committed violence against female and child hostages in Marawi, said regional military spokesman Maj. Ronald Suscano.
Moreover, Lomondot directed a diversionary attack by pro-IS gunmen in the neighboring town of Marantao.
The capture of Lomondot indicates that IS remnants have yet to fully regain their footing.
The military should seize the early opportunity to catch Abu Dar and prevent local IS adherents from gathering strength and seeking anew the establishment of an IS province elsewhere in Mindanao.
It would be better to nip the IS threat in the bud, rather than let the jihadists launch another Marawi-style siege that will cost the lives of hundreds of civilians and billions of pesos worth of property.
Marawi was the worst case of urban terrorism ever experienced by the country; it should be the last.