FORTY foreigners have joined the Maute group to battle the government, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año said Thursday.
In an interview, Año said 20 of the foreign terrorists were Indonesians, while the rest are from Malaysia, Saudi, Yemen, and other countries.
Indonesians have also joined other terrorist groups, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf and the AKP, he said.
Año also said Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf leader, and Abdullah Maute, one of the two Maute brothers, were still alive. The other Maute brother, Omar, was believed to be dead.
Fighting between the Maute terrorist group and government troops has been going on in Marawi City since May 23.
Año said local politicians who were funding the Maute operations had no links to the Islamic State, but were helping the local terrorists for their own reasons.
“They have common interests, which is to fight the government, so they join or they support Maute for their personal political interest, but that makes them also guilty,” he said.
Año admitted they did not have a timeline to retaking Marawi City, where the fighting has been building-to-building.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi, said Thursday the Maute terrorists were abandoning their firearms and blending in with civilian evacuees to get out of Marawi City.
“As their bailiwick native land, the terrorists are knowledgeable of the terrain here in Marawi City. They are also using that advantage to slip out of the area to escape,” Herrera said in a statement.
Government security forces have arrested several alleged high-profile members of the Maute group, including Cayamora and Farjana Maute, parents of Abdullah and Omar, leaders of the group, as well as the brothers’ other siblings.
Amid this, Herrera assured the public that government troops are doing everything to track down members of the group who were able to flee Marawi City.
Sporadic clashes have been ongoing in Marawi City since May 23 after the Maute group attacked the city, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to put the entire Mindanao under martial law.
Brig. Gen. Ramiro Manuel Rey, commander of Task Force Ranao, said improvised explosive devices planted by the group are delaying the clearing operations being conducted by government troops.
“The Maute terrorists are pushed back in a corner due to the AFP’s continuous effort. But they are using IEDs to block the government troops,” he said.
He added that Maute group members are using hostages as human shields and slaves to gain grounds.
“Hostages were even forced to place LPG tanks with fuel as IEDs against the AFP troops,” he said.
Herrera said the number of Maute members still resisting government forces in Marawi has dwindled to a little over 100.
“According to the information we are getting from the ground troops operating in the area, there are more or less 100 members of Maute terrorist group left after one month battle here in Marawi,” he said.
As of 6 p.m., June 21, a total of 276 Maute terrorists have been killed while 271 firearms have been recovered. On the government side, 67 have been killed in action while 461 were wounded.
A total of 26 civilians have also been killed while 1,658 have been rescued due to the conflict.
The three suspected members of Maute terrorist group arrested by Philippine Coast Guards in Iloilo were charged Thursday before the Department of Justice’s special panel of prosecutors.
The suspects identified as Faridah Pangompig Romato, of Carmen, Cagayan de Oro; Aljadid Pangompig Romato, alias Miks Jadid Romato, of Iligan City; and Abdulralman Dimakuta Sevad, of Marantao, Lanao del Sur were presented before the DOJ’s special panel of prosecutors for inquest proceedings on rebellion charges.
The hearing was held inside the Camp Evangelista in Cagayan De Oro City, where most arrested Maute members and supporters are currently detained pending request of the DOJ before the Supreme Court for their transfer to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. With Rey E. Requejo