Duterte to Congress: Maute tried to establish ISIS province

Audrey Morallo - Philstar.com
Duterte to Congress: Maute tried to establish ISIS province

The Maute Group tried to establish a so-called Islamic State (IS) province in Mindanao when it laid siege Marawi City on Tuesday, according to the report submitted by President Rodrigo Duterte to the Congress. File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:05 p.m.) — The Maute Group tried to establish a "daesh" or so-called Islamic State province in Marawi City when they laid siege to the capital of Lanao Del Sur, according to the report that President Rodrigo Duterte submitted to Congress explaining his basis for the declaration of army rule in Mindanao.

President Rodrigo declared martial law on the Philippines’ second largest island on Tuesday night following the failed attempt of security forces to arrest the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute bandit groups.

Duterte told Congress that the armed siege and acts of violence of the Maute and some Abu Sayyaf fighters were meant to take control of major social, economic and political foundations of the city to lay the groundwork for the eventual establishment of an IS province in Mindanao.

The president said these acts were not only meant as a display of force but a clear attempt to establish the groups’ seat of power in Marawi City.

“Through these groups’ armed siege and acts of violence directed towards civilians and government authorities, institutions and establishments, they were able to take control of major social, economic, and political foundations of Marawi City which led to its paralysis,” Duterte told Congress in the report.

The president claimed: “This sudden taking of control was intended to lay the groundwork for the eventual establishment of a DAESH wilayat or province in Mindanao. These activities constitute not simply a display of force, but a clear attempt to establish the groups’ seat of power in Marawi City for their planned establishment of a DAESH wilayat or province covering the entire Mindanao.”

A security expert, however, said that martial law would not be a wise solution to deal with the militants. The Maute Group was small, and the military could easily deal with it, he said.

Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asian security expert and a professor at the National War College in Washington, said that government troops could manage the group despite belonging to a terrorist network in the region.

"Maute group is a small group. It is manageable. They feed off of or recruit from disaffected (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) combatants," Abuza told Philstar.com. "Though they have pledged their allegiance to IS, there is no evidence to date that IS has given them any resources. This is a manageable threat, but it has been repeatedly mismanaged."

Abuza, who studies terrorism in the region, said Duterte does not seem to have a clear strategy to restore peace, much less to quell the Maute.

"I don't see anything but a bunch of knee jerk reactions, and a shoot from the hip approach. He has no holistic approach. I see this as nothing more than a pretext to declare martial law," the expert said.

Security forces have since launched surgical strikes in Marawi City to target the locations of Maute bandits.

According to the military, the clashes have so far killed 31 Maute fighters, 11 soldiers and two police officers.

Terror network

Duterte’s report to Congress and arrival statement as well as those from Delfin Lorenzana, the defense secretary, have since shown that the government has already admitted the presence of IS in the country, effectively contradicting initial military pronouncements denying the existence of the group’s members in the Philippines.

Duterte said that several activities of the IS-inspired fighters pointed to their eventual plan to remove Marawi City’s allegiance to the national government.

“The cutting of vital lines for transportation and power; the recruitment of young Muslims to further expand their ranks and strengthen their force; the armed consolidation of their members throughout Marawi City; the decimation of a segment of the city population who resist; and the brazen display of DAESH flags constitute a clear, pronounced, and unmistakable intent to remove Marawi City, and eventually the rest of Mindanao, from its allegiance to the Government,” he said in the report.

Citing latest reports, Duterte told the Congress that as of the end of 2016 Maute had around 263 fighters who were fully armed and prepared to wage combat to advance their aims.

Duterte also told the House and the Senate that the group was chiefly based in Lanao Del Sur, but it had extensive links to local and foreign terrorist organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah and Mujahidin Indonesia Timur.

The chief executive said that Maute adhered to the ideals espoused by IS and primarily got funding through illegal drugs trade and foreign-based terrorist groups.

“It adheres to the ideals being espoused by the DAESH, as evidenced by, among others, its publication of a video footage declaring its allegiance to the DAESH. Reports abound that foreign-based terrorist groups, the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in particular, as well as illegal drug money, provide financial and logistical support to the Maute Group,” he said.

Duterte, who was with his senior military officials, was in Moscow on a visit when clashes in Marawi City erupted on Tuesday afternoon. The president was forced to cut short his visit as he felt that his physical presence was needed in the country, according to Alan Cayetano, his foreign affairs secretary.

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