SECURITY forces have yet to neutralize eight foreign terrorists, including the Malaysian financier, recruiter and architect of the attack on Marawi City, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said Monday.
In a briefing in Marawi City hours after the death of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, Año said government troops were still hunting Mahmud Ahmad, a former lecturer at University Malaya who was believed to have financed and planned the Marawi City siege.
Aside from Mahmud, several Malaysian and Indonesian jihadists are still holed up inside the main battle area, Año said.
“We counted maybe less that eight. Based on the information we gathered, one of the prominent terrorists is Mahmud, a Malaysian who is still in the main battle area,” Año said, noting that the remnants were no longer as aggressive as they were before. “We are very optimistic that we will get all of them.”
In the early stages of the siege, the military reported killing seven foreign terrorists.
Mahmud reportedly lured bandits with huge amounts of money to join the terrorist group headed by Hapilon and Maute.
Mahmud was among the five prominent Malaysian terrorists with links to IS who left their country in 2014 after the Malaysia launched a crackdown on Islamic militants.
Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Hamidi said the five militants were associated with Daulah Islamiya Asia Tenggara, a Southeast Asian terror network with links to IS.
Reports said Mahmud channeled millions of dollars to Mindanao to finance the Marawi attack.
Lorenzana said Mahmud was still hiding in one of the structures within the main battle area.
An expert on terrorism from Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Kumar Ramakrishna, said Hapilon’s death was “a significant operational and sympolic blow to IS-linked groups,” but warned that it was far from the end of IS in Southeast Asia.
“Just because the Marawi siege is coming to an end does not mean the threat is over. IS-linked militants there will regroup... and lay low for a while, while rebuilding their strength,” he said.
He said Mahmud would, if he is still alive, likely rise up to lead the IS-linked fighters in Mindanao and stay in contact with the jihadists in the Middle East.
It is not clear how many IS-supporting militants there are in Southeast Asia, a region of more than 600 million people, but many local militant outfits have pledged allegiance to the group.
Hundreds of militants are believed to have flocked to the Middle East to fight with IS -- particularly from Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, and the Philippines.
Sidney Jones, head of Jakarta-based security think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, warned authorities now faced a growing threat of battle-hardened fighters returning to Southeast Asia as the noose closes on IS in the Middle East, with their former stronghold of Raqa close to being captured.
Authorities have been particularly concerned about a Southeast Asian unit of IS fighters in Syria, Khatibah Nusantara.
“I think the attention is going to shift back again to the return of fighters from Syria and Iraq,” she said.
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