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âIS-backed Maute eyed takeover of Mindanaoâ

MARAWI BURNING: Smoke rises near a public market in Marawi City after military attack helicopters fired rockets on the positions of Maute fighters the other day. AFP

‘IS-backed Maute eyed takeover of Mindanao’

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2017 - 4:00pm

ML report cites foreign IS jihadis in Marawi siege

MANILA, Philippines - Foreign jihadis joined Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the siege of Marawi City with the aim of taking over the entire Mindanao and setting up a caliphate, President Duterte has informed Congress.

The information is contained in the President’s report to the legislature on his justification for declaring martial law in the entire Mindanao. The Constitution allows martial law only in cases of rebellion or invasion.

In a speech yesterday, the President said that “ISIS is already here” – referring to the terrorist Islamic State.

“Considering the network and alliance-building activities among terrorist groups, local criminals and lawless armed men, the siege of Marawi City is a vital cog in attaining their long-standing goal: absolute control over the entirety of Mindanao,” Duterte wrote in his report, submitted to the two chambers of Congress on Thursday night.

“These circumstances demand swift and decisive action to ensure the safety and security of the Filipino people and preserve our national integrity,” he added.

The report cited terrorist acts carried out by the Maute such as the assault on the city jail, disruption of power supply, ambush of police personnel and the burning of a local police station.

Duterte submitted the seven-page report to Congress five minutes before the 48-hour reportorial requirement lapsed Thursday evening. 

“While the government is presently conducting legitimate operations to address the ongoing rebellion, if not the seeds of invasion, public safety necessitates the continued implementation of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao until such time that the rebellion is completely quelled,” Duterte said.

What unfolded in Marawi City, the President emphasized, was not just a show of force but actual attempt by the armed groups linked to the Middle East-based Islamic State to transform the city into the seat of power of their so-called daesh wilayat in Mindanao.

As president, Duterte said he has the powers under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution to declare martial law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus.

He maintained the atrocities of the Maute group and its allies were an “attempt to deprive the President of his power to exercise authority over a part of the country.”

“There exists no doubt that lawless armed groups are attempting to deprive the President of his power, authority and prerogatives within Marawi City as precedent to spreading their control over the entire Mindanao,” the report said.

He also called the Maute siege of Marawi City an attempt to undermine his control over executive departments, bureaus and other offices in the area; defeat his mandate to ensure that all laws are faithfully executed and remove his supervisory powers over local governments.

“The taking up of arms by lawless armed groups in the area, with support being provided by foreign-based terrorists and illegal drug money, and their blatant acts of defiance which embolden other armed groups in Mindanao, have resulted in the deterioration of public order and safety in Marawi City,” he said. “They have likewise compromised the security of the entire island of Mindanao.”

Launching point

He explained the terror groups chose Marawi City as target because its terrain was ideal as staging point for launching attacks in other areas of Mindanao.

Citing information from his security officials, Duterte noted that local terror groups have built alliances and networks with overseas Islamic extremist groups and lawless elements in Mindanao.

The Maute terror group – established by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute – used to confine its activities in Butig, Lanao del Sur for years as a plain criminal syndicate.

Its first daring operation was the kidnapping of six sawmill workers in April last year near its base in Barangay Sandab also in Butig. The group beheaded two of its victims while being pursued by troopers.

Maute would later attract members of the Ansar Kahlifa Philippines following the death of that group’s founder and leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias Tokboy, at the hands of government agents in an anti-terror operation outside a beach resort in Saranggani early this year.

“The killing of an imam in Lanao del Sur has angered moderate Muslims who decided to side with the Maute group,” a senior security official said.

Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, believed to have been wounded in an earlier encounter with the military, now reportedly heads the Maute.

The group has also reportedly attracted members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Foreign fighters dead

Meanwhile, foreign fighters reportedly with links to IS were among the dead in the military’s assault to flush out of dozens of Maute gunmen.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. confirmed the presence of foreign jihadists among local terrorists battling government forces.

“There are also Malaysians, Singaporeans and in the fight that has been ongoing in Marawi, we are continuously verifying that there have been a number of them who have been killed,” Padilla said in a joint press briefing with presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella and Solicitor General Jose Calida in Davao City yesterday.

“There is a certain information that we received which confirmed the killing of 12 members of this group and about half of that number are foreign terrorists. Malaysians, Indonesians and one other which I could not remember,” he said. “So that confirms the presence of these foreign terrorists.”

He said security forces have monitored “certain elements” coming to Southern Mindanao for some time, and that they had been “aiding these terrorists in skills related to terrorism, primarily bomb making.”

Padilla assured the public that the military is committed to protect the citizens.

“Our men and women in the Armed Forces are committed to their mission and because of this commitment, it is not... it is sad that we have to offer lives in order to accomplish that,” he said.

With the death of six more soldiers yesterday, Padilla said the total number of troopers killed since the start of the military operation early this week reached 11.

Two policemen were also among the casualties on government side.

“One of whom was an officer who was assigned in the area and who was brutally killed by way of beheading,” Padilla said.

“Up to this moment, operations are ongoing and there are still firefights between our forces and those of the terrorists in certain parts of the city. But the objective of our Armed Forces is to clear the city at the soonest time possible,” Padilla said.

Asked about Maute snipers strategically positioned in Marawi, Padilla said the enemy would understandably do everything to impede the movement of troops.

“That’s the way they will move in areas like this, and that’s clearly understandable. We know the threat and we are addressing these,” Padilla said.

Padilla also assured residents of Marawi City that there would be no massive destruction of property as military operations would be surgical in nature.

“That is why at this point – I also like to air and communicate to the residents of Marawi, our citizens who have been continuously saying to take every precaution not to bomb the place because they will lose their possessions, we assure our kababayans in Marawi, our Muslim brothers that we are not bombing your city,” Padilla said.

“We are merely performing surgical airstrikes with pinpoint accuracy to neutralize these threats that have been impeding the entry and movement of our troops,” he explained.

“Again, the assurance that we give you is that we are taking every precaution to avoid collateral damage, damage to private property which you have heavily invested in your whole lives, as well as the loss of innocent lives,” he said. –  With Jaime Laude

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