FBI confirms death of Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi

In this photo released by the 4th Civil Relations Group, Civil Relations Service Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano holds pictures of dead militant leaders during a press conference at a military camp in Marawi, southern Philippines on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The last two surviving leaders of a deadly siege in the southern Philippines, including a top Asian terror suspect, were killed Monday in a push by thousands of troops to retake the last pocket of Marawi city still held by pro-Islamic State militants, top security officials said. Officials said that Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects, and Omarkhayam Maute were killed in a gunbattle and their bodies were found Monday in Marawi. (4th Civil Relations Group, Civil Relations Service Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP)
Updated 21 October 2017

FBI confirms death of Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi

MANILA: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the death of Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’s designated emir in Southeast Asia, in a dawn military assault last Monday in Marawi City.
Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, was a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The FBI “has confirmed that the DNA sample taken from a body recovered by our operating units in Marawi matches that of Isnilon Hapilon,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday.
“This process of verification is also being conducted on the cadavers of the other terrorists that have been recovered so far.”
Lamont Siller, the FBI’s legal attaché at the US Embassy in Manila, confirmed the news. “Yes that’s correct,” he told Arab News.
Siller said the FBI is still working to confirm the death of Omar Maute, who along with his brother Abdullah formed the group that attacked and held parts of Marawi City since May 23.
The military earlier announced the killing of Hapilon and Omar as government forces made a final push to reclaim Marawi and end the nearly five-month siege of the country’s only Islamic city by the Daesh-backed Maute group.
Hapilon is said to have served in several senior positions in the ASG since at least 1997. The ASG has a reputation for brutality, including beheading its kidnap victims.
He gained international notoriety in 2001 for his involvement in the abduction of 20 tourists — including three Americans identified as Guillermo Sobero, and Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple — from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.
Sobero was beheaded as a “birthday present” for then-Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Martin died in the crossfire during a rescue attempt by Philippine troops in June 2002. Gracia was injured, but was rescued and repatriated to the US.
According to information from the US Department of Justice, Hapilon was indicted in the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts against American and other foreign nationals in and around the Philippines. A $5-million bounty was placed on his head.
In 2014, Hapilon and his faction pledged allegiance to Daesh, but it was not until 2016 that he was acknowledged by the terrorist organization as its leader in Southeast Asia.
Daesh reportedly made direct contact with Hapilon in late 2016, instructing him to find an area to establish a caliphate in the southern Philippines.
On Wednesday, the military said Hapilon and Omar were trying to escape war-torn Marawi and abandon their own men when they were killed by government troops. Omar was killed by a sniper headshot, and Hapilon by three bullets to his chest.
They led the Marawi siege, which left more than 1,000 people dead, including 897 militants, 47 civilians and 164 government troops. More than 350,000 residents have been displaced.
One day after the deaths of Hapilon and Omar, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City free of terrorists. Despite this, operations continue to flush out terrorists in the city.
On Wednesday night, another high-value target, Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, was killed by government forces.
Ahmad, whose body has yet to be recovered, had been touted as a possible successor to Hapilon as Daesh’s emir in Southeast Asia.
Experts say Daesh has suffered a major setback in East Asia with the deaths of Hapilon and Omar.
“It’s a huge blow to Daesh... and any dreams it has of establishing a caliphate here,” Steve Cutler, an international security analyst and former head of the FBI in Manila, told Arab News. “Their replacements won’t be the charismatic leaders of the caliber of these two.”
But political analyst Ramon Casiple told Arab News that their deaths are a “temporary setback for Daesh” that will not stop it from pursuing its agenda.
“Daesh is a regional organization,” Casiple said, adding that the loss of Hapilon and Omar does not mean it has no more supporters or sympathizers in the Philippines.

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019

Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”