KOTA KINABALU: The country’s most wanted militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad is among several Malaysians believed to be still fighting government forces in Marawi city in southern Philippines, according to Bukit Aman’s counter-terrorism chief.
“We believe Dr Mahmud is still in Marawi City,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the Special Branch’s Counter-Terrorism Division principal assistant director, told FMT today.
Philippine government forces were reported to be making a final push to capture the last strongholds of the IS-linked Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, which launched attacks on the city on May 23.
Philippine army chief Eduardo Ano yesterday said about 10 foreign militants, mostly Malaysians and Indonesians, were still fighting alongside local militants in a lakeside community in Marawi City after a series of setbacks.
“We also believe a few other Malaysian fighters are still in Marawi city, but we have yet to confirm their exact number,” Ayob Khan said.
In June, Ano was reported to have said Mahmud was suspected of channelling more than 30 million pesos (RM2.4 million) from IS to acquire food, firearms and other supplies for the attack in Marawi.
Mahmud, a university lecturer-turned-militant, is reportedly highly regarded by fighters battling government forces in the southern Philippines, and is said to have assumed a leadership role among Maute militants linked to IS.
Ano yesterday said efforts were underway to rescue at least 45 hostages captured by a dozen militants. Reports have said that Malaysians were among the hostages.
A mosque was the latest stronghold reportedly captured by troops on Saturday, that saw the release of a Catholic priest who had been held by militants for 117 days.
Malaysian security agencies have expressed concern that remnants of the Marawi militants may flee the Philippine military’s final offensives into the country.
“If any surviving Malaysian militants return to the nation, we’re ready for them,” said Ayob.
The nearest Malaysian soil Malaysian militants may return to is the eastern coast of Sabah.
The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), which oversees security in the area, will remain vigilant against fleeing militants entering the state. – FMT