MARAWI CITY: Key leaders of the Maute group, including Abdullah Maute, are still alive more than two months into fighting with government forces since the IS-linked terrorists attacked the city, sources told The Manila Times.
Contrary to earlier reports, Abdullah Maute remains alive and unhurt from the fighting, the Times sources said, citing their conversations with the group on July 28.
“They said that he (Abdullah) was not on the battleground during the time, but he’s expected to come back and fight [again],” one of the sources said.
Another source said other top Maute leaders also survived the fighting but were wounded in the months-long military offensives. “They have received medical treatment and are now back fighting,” he said.
“One of them was wounded twice when hit by bomb debris, but he was fully treated outside the battle zone,” the source said.
The military is still investigating reports from escaped hostages that Abdullah had been killed, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said.
“We do trust the narratives of our escapees from inside. But then we need verifiable proof before we can come up with a categorical statement,” Padilla said.
Aside from Abdullah Maute, other identified leaders of the group linked to the Islamic State (IS) are his brothers Omar and Madie, Isnilon Hapilon, Isnadie Ibrahim, Humam Abdulnajid, Malaysian national Mahmud Ahmad, Abu Yaman al-Yamani, and Abu Hafs and his twin Abu Akmad.
Most were seen in a video, along with two unidentified individuals, prior to the Maute’s May 23 attack on Marawi City that forced President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law over Mindanao.
Local and international intelligence units had identified the plotters in the video except for Abdulnajid and a few others.
These plotters figured in the founding of the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM) and its intelligence unit Ghuraba, which means “strangers” or “foreigners,” in 2006 in Cagayan de Oro City.
The KIM last year formed IS Ranao, also known as the Maute group, led by Abdullah. It recruited more than 100 “disgruntled” members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has disowned them.
Hapilon’s Abu Sayyaf and other allied groups supported the IS in 2014.
Abdulnajid and Hapilon, together with their men, were featured in the IS-run magazine Rumiyah released in June.
Hapilon, together with Abdullah’s brother Omar, had fled the battle zones, according to reports.
‘Slower by the day’
On Tuesday, the military admitted that operations against the Maute troops were becoming more difficult and “getting slower everyday.”
The Maute fighters continue to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in certain places to delay military operations, said Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command.
“We have been recovering plenty of booby traps from the areas. If these exploded, our troops would have to hold back,” she said.
Petinglay said about 50 to 70 Maute terrorists remained inside the battle zone, hiding along with civilian hostages in places such as mosques.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said only 30 to 40 terrorists were holed up in Marawi. But Petinglay said figures given by the Defense chief were only estimates.
More than 500 Maute terrorists have been killed since the fighting began, the military claims, and a total of 592 firearms have been recovered from their lairs.
“We are getting nearer. Places that need to get cleared are getting fewer, but at a slow pace,” Petinglay said.
with DEMPSEY REYES