How Maute group came to be

John Unson - Philstar.com
How Maute group came to be

A leader of a 20-member band of Maute terrorists holding out in an abandoned building in Bangolo in Marawi City.

LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines - The Maute terror group first emerged in Butig town in Lanao del Sur more than two years ago, just as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East started to hit the news.

Founded by siblings Omar and Abdulla Maute, the group was originally named Dawlah Islamiya, but eventually became more known as the Maute terror group, now feared for its impunity.

Omar and Abdullah are descendants of a big Maranaw warrior clan in Butig, a hinterland town in the first district of Lanao del Sur.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has a government-recognized enclave in Butig, the Camp Busrah Siomorong.

It was also somewhere in the same municipality where the founder of MILF, the late Imam Salamat Hashim, was laid to rest after he died of a cardiovascular disease in 2003.

Omar and Abdullah were former contract workers in the Middle East, who both studied Islamic theology in between works in secular schools in Syria and in the United Arab Emirates.

They are both espousing hatred to non-Muslims and are known for their propensity in enforcing a Taliban-style justice system, which Maranaws find ruthless and absolutely primitive.

'Distorted concept'

Local officials and moderate clerics disagree with the kind of Islam being preached by the Maute group, premised on what is widely perceived as “distorted concept” of a puritanical Islamic community governed by a Sharia justice system and absolutely detached from non-Muslims.

Moderate clerics argue there is not even a single verse in the Qur’an encouraging persecution of non-Muslims.

Islam has very extensive teachings on universal love, fraternalism and tolerance based on the principle “la iqra fidin,” meaning there is no compulsion in religion.

Preachers opposed to the ways of the Maute group use as pitch in countering its radical views how their prophet, Mohammad, extended friendship to the Catholic, Jewish and pagan communities in the ancient Mediterranean communities that were to become the different countries now in the Middle East and North Africa.

Among the first official acts of Mohammad, after he established the first ever Muslim community in what is now Saudi Arabia, was to send a letter, through a scribe, to Catholics in a monastery in Mt. Sinai in Egypt, assuring them of respect of their religion and protection in case of persecution by any feudal group.

The letter is intact in a religious museum in Turkey, according to moderate preachers and officials of government-accredited Islamic schools in central Mindanao.

Written stories on the life and missionary works of Mohammad also depict his penchant for protection of women, the sick and the elderly during war, regardless of religions and races. He also prohibited torture and decapitation of prisoners of war.  

For many residents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which covers all 39 towns in Lanao del Sur and its capital, Marawi City, Maute terrorists are but fanatically misguided group of Islamic militants inspired by ISIS and with extremely dangerous tendencies.

Spate of attacks

The group’s initial adventurism in Butig, in what seemed a baptism of fire, ruined the town and dislocated thousands of residents, many of them still reluctant to return to their villages that were plundered in one attack after another from between 2015 until early this year.

There are local officials in Maguindanao who have stories purporting that no fewer than 10 young recruits of the Maute brothers were trained in fabrication of improvised explosive devices by the slain Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Maguindanaon cohort, Abdulbasit Usman, in Barangay Pidsandawan in Mamasapano town in late 2014.

Marwan, whose real name is Zulkifli bin Hir, was killed by a team of the police’s elite Special Action Force in a dawn raid at Barangay Pidsandawan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015.

Usman, an ethnic Maguindanaon, was shot dead about three months later by guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in keeping with their ceasefire accord with the government, which enjoins both sides to mutually cooperate in neutralizing criminal gangs and terrorists in potential flashpoint areas in Southern Mindanao.

The Maute group became even more notoriously popular when its members beheaded in April 2016 captives Salvador Janobas and his younger brother, Jaymart, on mere suspicion they were spies of the military.

The Visayan victims were lowly laborers in a mini sawmill owned by an illegal logger in Butig.

They were kidnapped by Maute gunmen a month before they were executed, after their family failed to raise a P5-million ransom in exchange for their release.

A video footage of their brutal execution was immediately circulated via Facebook timelines of local self-proclaimed Jihadists using aliases.

Link to other terrorist groups

Relatives said even before Omar and Abdullah organized the Dawlah Islamiya, they already have links with the founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao, the late Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato.

Kato was also a radical cleric trained in a religious school in Saudia Arabia. He studied abroad as a government scholar during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos.

Kato started as a commander in the MILF, but got booted in 2010 for insubordination and differences with members of their central committee.

The Maute brothers even reportedly sent representatives to visit Kato in his hideout in a hinterland surrounded by Maguindanao’s South Upi, Guindulungan and Datu Saudi towns after he suffered a hypertensive stroke that left half of his body paralyzed and eventually caused his demise.

The Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf fused ranks early this year, according to local officials in Lanao del Sur and sources in the Army’s intelligence community.

The BIFF, the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group have a common denominator - that of using the black ISIS flag as their revolutionary banners.

RELATED: LIVE updates: Martial Law in Mindanao l Marawi crisis: What we know so far

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