The military arrested on Thursday Mohammad Noaim Abdul Maute, cousin of the Maute brothers leading Islamic State-linked terrorists occupying parts of Marawi City, in an operation led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Cagayan de Oro City.
The arrest of Mohammad, also known as “Abu Jadid,” came after a concerned citizen tipped off authorities about the terrorist’s presence in the area, according to the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom).
He was arrested at around 7 a.m., authorities said, at Sitio Sta. Cruz, Macasandig in Cagayan de Oro.
But he denied being a Maute bomb expert, telling reporters in Cagayan de Oro he had nothing to do with the Marawi attack.
“I know that my name is clean. I have friends and relatives who know who I am, here in Mindanao and in Manila,” he said in Filipino, while on board a police vehicle.
Abu Jadid was nabbed by virtue of Arrest Order 1 signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the martial law administrator in Mindanao, on May 29. The order contains at least 200 names suspected to be linked to the terrorist attack on Marawi City.
From a report released by the EastMinCom spokesman, Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Abu Jadid was an Arabic teacher in Marawi City and is suspected to be a bomb expert for the Maute group led by Omar and Abdullah Maute.
To conceal his identity, Abu Jadid used a fake Mindanao State University identification card bearing the name Alfaiz P. Mamintal. But as authorities pressed him, Abu Jadid admitted that he is Mohammad Maute, cousin of Omar and Abdullah, the AFP said.
Talking to reporters in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said Abu Jadid was brought to the PNP Northern Mindanao regional office in Cagayan de Oro.
“He is still kept in that area until further advise from higher authorities. The persona of the arrested individual…looks very young but is not a minor if I gathered correctly from the field,” Padilla said.
Police regional chief Agrepino Javier earlier said the arrested Maute member was a cousin of Omar and Abdullah. Padilla said Abu Jadid was the “youngest” among the Maute clan, “as far as the information [the AFP has]received.”
“[This] is part of the initial list of personalities who were submitted by the administrator of martial law who were supposed to be arrested in relation to the rebellion that is occurring in Marawi,” Padilla said, referring to Lorenzana.
President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law over the whole island of Mindanao following the deadly attacks launched by the Maute group on May 23.
Padilla said Abu Jadid was involved in recent bombing incidents in some provinces in Mindanao.
Abu Jadid was also accused of murder, with the military spokesman citing the execution of some sawmill workers in Lanao del Sur months ago.
Earlier, the Maute patriarch, Cayamora, and matriarch Farhana were arrested by the AFP and PNP on separate dates. Farhana was identified as the financier of the Maute brothers.
The Maute elders are detained in a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
‘Good vs evil’
The AFP meanwhile claimed the crisis in Marawi City could no longer be considered a “simple battle” as it has turned into a fight between good and the evil.
“It is already a fight between good and evil, it is already a fight that is taking our country to a different ball game or arena at this time,” Padilla told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
“We need to come together as one united republic against a common enemy and that is terrorism, the evil that is brought by terrorism,” he added.
Clashes in Marawi City began on May 22 when the Maute group launched attacks in the city by torching several establishments including churches, schools and jails.
The local terrorist group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, also took civilians as hostages, with some already decapitated and killed.
The battle stemmed from a botched military and police operation to capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was seen during the battle along with Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah.
As fighting reached its 25th day, Padilla said the Maute have planned for the terror attack “for a long time” in Marawi City.
“They have planned for this for a long time and may have laid caches of arms in certain areas that will sustain them as they move into the interiors when they make a retreat or consolidation,” Padilla told reporters.
“We also mentioned that in the course of the fighting or before the fight even started and when they started burning and pillaging, they were able to get hold of ammunition and firearms in the [armories]of prisons of the police stations and other equipment that they captured from our government troops,” he added.
As of the latest military count, 58 government men have been killed in fighting in Marawi City. The figure includes the 13 Marines who were killed over the weekend.
“The life of a soldier is priceless. There is nothing in this world that can ever match the lives of our soldiers. Especially for a certain [ground]commander, it is painful for him to see his men dying in the middle of a battle,” Padilla lamented.
He also reiterated that the Maute group has been holding only four barangay (villages) of the 96 in Marawi City, which Padilla described as “problematic” areas.
“But of the four [villages], not all of these are in their hands, only portions, and our troops are making headway into the inner areas of these barangay where they continue to hole up or retreat to,” said Padilla.
“The reason for these barangay being problematic areas is because of the presence of built-up buildings that are made of strong materials that can resist any kind of assault by our troops,” he added.
“Hence, there are times when we need to effect and use heavier ordnance to neutralize targets where particular vantage points are becoming a dangerous approach for our troops,” he explained.
On Wednesday, AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said troops were able to recover eight high-rise buildings occupied by Maute snipers.
Padilla said the offensive would continue, and reiterated that the military would no longer set deadlines.
“We are no longer setting deadlines because of the urban terrain which is becoming more complicated and this has to be done in a very careful and deliberate manner so as to avoid the loss of innocent lives, as well as not put in danger the lives of potential hostages that may still be in the hands of these criminals,” Padilla said.