COTABATO CITY: Local government officials in Lanao del Sur are urging authorities to investigate an Islamic school or Madrasa whose name is being withheld while investigation of its alleged links to the Maute terror group, now sporting the name of Dawlah Islamiya, is yet to begin.
The Dawlah Islamiya figured recently in a gunfight with the military in Butig, Lanao del Sur, where, according to military sources, the terror group suffered more than a dozen casualties.
The Maute terror group is just considered as a gang but enjoys support of local Islamic schools, providing the group with fanatical students to help fight government forces.
Local officials in Butig on Saturday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to assign a battalion of military men in the municipality of Butig to prevent Dawlah Islamiya bandits from coming back to terrorize villages.
Members of the Butig municipal peace and order council confirmed that more than half of the group’s only about 200 members are jobless men from nearby towns and students of an Islamic school in Marawi City.
Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr., a senior member of the provincial peace and order council who attended a recent local government summit of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in Davao City, said the school is now being monitored by local authorities.
Other local executives from Lanao del Sur who attended the summit said they want the Department of Education in the ARMM (DepEd-ARMM) to look into the activities of the Islamic school, whose name they asked not to publish yet pending outcome of an investigation of its alleged links the Dawlah Islamiya.
“There are also three other smaller Islamic schools rumored to have links to this group, which is espousing violence. Nowhere in the Qur’an can we find a single verse espousing violence as a means of furthering a cause or in seeking redress,” said a mayor who asked not to be named.
Maranao mayors confirmed that the suspicious school in Marawi City first sent students to Butig to help the Dawlah Islamiya fight Philippine Army units that flushed them out of the municipality during the campaign period that preceded the May 9, 2016 elections.
“Certain students of the school were reportedly absent from classes during the latest incursion of the group in populated areas in Butig,” said a local official who also attended the ARMM local government summit, held at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City.
Mayors are worried of more attacks soon by extremists on the once peaceful Maranao farming communities as vengeance on the deaths of 22 Dawlah Islamiya gunmen that the military killed during the fierce encounters there last week that according to government sources displaced some 2,715 Maranao families.
The military had announced that more than 50 Dawlah Islamiya members were killed in firefights in Butig from November 23 to 25.
Local government officials, however, confirmed that the group only had 22 fatalities, nine of them mere teenagers.
ARMM’s regional vice governor, Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman Jr., who hails from Bayang town in Lanao del Sur, said there is a need for immediate deployment of a battalion of soldiers in Butig to deter attacks by the Dawlah Islamiya.
“An Army battalion that would stay there and not leave after the ongoing anti-Maute operations [is needed],” Lucman added.
Evacuees provided with food by the ARMM government through a team led by Lucman, concurrent regional social welfare secretary, said the terrorists forced villagers last week to leave at gunpoint and looted their houses.
The evacuees said the bandits also took their farm animals as they fled to elude responding soldiers.
“It is just a very small group. Most of its members are not residents of Butig but are from nearby towns in Lanao del Sur,” said Abdul Pansar, the municipal planning and development coordinator of Butig.
The Dawlah Islamiya, founded by relatives Omar and Abdullah Maute, boasts of its allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and has also been using the black ISIS flag as its revolutionary banner.
The founders of the group had studied Islamic theology in Syria, Jordan and in secular schools in the United Arab Emirates, according to some public officials in Lanao del Sur.
Last week’s hostilities in Butig erupted when Dawlah Islamiya gunmen showed force in the center of the municipality and hoisted the ISIS flag on strategic spots in the municipality.
Municipal mayors in Maguindanao’s adjoining Matanog, Buldon and Barira towns that are all located near the forested border of the province with Lanao del Sur said they are apprehensive of a possible retreat of the Dawlah Islamiya extremists in Butig to their municipalities.
Buldon Mayor Abolais Manalao has recommended an urgent meeting of the municipal peace and order councils in the three Maguindanao towns to discuss how to prevent the possible coming in of extremists from Butig.
Butig is so close to the border of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, where there is a much bigger terrorist group, the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters also known for its allegiance to ISIS.
Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar said he is optimistic that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will deploy soon a battalion of soldiers totheir municipality to help the local police control activities of the Dawlah Islamiya.
Pansar noted that there are only 20 policemen that the Philippine National Police assigned in Butig and some of them are only carrying 9 millimeter pistols.