CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY: Three suspected financiers of the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorist group were arrested early on Wednesday in a raid in Cagayan de Oro City, the military said on Wednesday.
Troops belonging to the Martial Law Special Action Group also seized explosives and bomb-making materials from a rented house in Barangay Macasandig, which authorities said could have been used for a bomb plot to divert the military’s attention from the ongoing offensive against Maute fighters in Marawi City.
Chief Insp. Mardy Hortillosa, spokesman of the Cagayan de Oro police, identified the suspects as Monalisa “Monay” Solaiman Romato, daughter Tahera Romato Taher, who also goes by the name “Kulingling,” and Gazim Mantawazi Abdullah.
In Malacañang, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the three were arrested inside the house rented by Airen Romato Idris and Monalisa Romato in Barangay Macasandig at about 4 a.m.
Padilla said Monalisa Romato, said to be a cousin of the Maute brothers, had been in charge of financing the terrorist group after Maute matriarch Farhana was arrested last month.
“Monalisa Romato, alias Monay, replaced her aunt Farhana Romato Maute, the matriarch of the Maute terrorist group clan, after she was arrested in Lanao del Sur,” Padilla told reporters during the “Mindanao House” news briefing.
Farhana, a real estate entrepreneur in Lanao del Sur, was earlier identified as the financier of the Maute group.
Padilla said Farhana was connected to foreigners through an extensive financial network for extremists.
Hortillosa said the Martial Law Special Action Group led by Supt. Melchor Guevarra of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detective Group, was serving a search warrant against Idris.
Idris was not around during the search but the suspects were invited after they were identified as members of the Maute group.
Authorities also claimed Taher provided logistics to three Maute suspects arrested in Iloilo City last June 15.
One of the suspects, Abdul Hadid, a bomb expert, pointed to Taher as a financier of the Maute group.
Supt. Lemuel Gonda, spokesman of the regional police command in Camp Alagar, said the raiding team seized four 40 mm M203 grenade launchers, a blasting cap, a 9-volt battery with a battery holder, a C4 explosive, eight detonating cords, 19 100-watt incandescent bulbs, a jungle knife, and suspected ammonium nitrate placed in a plastic bag and in a red plastic bottle.
Maute fighters attacked Marawi City last May 23 after a botched government attempt to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist leader said to be the IS “emir” in Southeast Asia. President Rodrigo Duterte immediately placed the entire Mindanao under martial law.
Troops retake Marawi school
Also on Wednesday, the military announced that government troops took control of a stronghold of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in the main battle area in Marawi City on Monday. Troops found high-powered firearms and the remains of a foreigner, officials said.
Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, said troops took over Jesuit-owned Dansalan College, which was attacked by the gunmen over a month ago.
The two Maute brothers leading the terrorist group studied in the Catholic college. Its high-rise structures served as terrorist machine-gun nests and snipers’ vantage positions.
“It will just be a matter of time and our soldiers will fully liberate Marawi from terrorists and criminal gangs who brought mayhem to this city. We owe this to our Maranao brothers and sisters. Our soldiers fully know what is at stake and we will strive together to neutralize these criminals in order to bring peace and normalcy in Marawi,” Bautista said.
Troops recovered a heavy machinegun and 14 other high-powered firearms. This brought to 410 the total number of firearms recovered by troops during clearing operations in the main battle area.
The remains of a foreign-looking individual, said to be from Singapore, were also recovered by troops. A total of
11 suspected foreign fighters have reportedly been killed so far in the fighting in Marawi.
In Manila, however, Padilla said the remains of two foreigners were recovered, but their nationalities had yet to be determined.
The military also said 1,717 civilians trapped in Marawi had been rescued by government forces.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, reiterated that clearing operations take into account the safety of trapped civilians.
“Our soldiers together with our civilian counterparts will do everything in their power to locate more trapped civilians and devise steps to rescue as many as possible,” Gálvez said.
About 300 to 500 civilians remain trapped in Marawi, authorities said.
As of July 4, 39 civilians and 85 government troops have been killed in Marawi. At least 343 suspected terrorists are believed to have died since clashes erupted on May 23.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL AND DEMPSEY REYES