Philippines: US DNA tests confirm death of Daesh-linked leader

The Muslim militant leader was believed to have helped lead the 2017 siege of southern Marawi city in the Philippines. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 April 2019

Philippines: US DNA tests confirm death of Daesh-linked leader

  • An official said the tests confirmed that Owaida Marohombsar was one of four militants killed in a March 14 gunbattle
  • The Philippine military asked US authorities to confirm Marohombsar’s death through DNA tests

MANILA: US DNA tests have confirmed the death of a Muslim militant commander who helped lead the 2017 siege of a city in the southern Philippines and was considered a key Daesh leader in the region, officials said Sunday.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said the tests confirmed that Owaida Marohombsar, who was also known by his nom de guerre Abu Dar, was one of four militants killed in a March 14 gunbattle that also left four soldiers dead near southern Tubaran town in Lanao del Sur province. The Philippine military asked US authorities to confirm Marohombsar’s death through DNA tests.
Marohombsar helped lead the May 23, 2017, siege of Marawi, which troops quelled after five months of ground assaults and airstrikes that left more than 1,100 people, mostly militants, dead and destroyed the mosque-studded city’s commercial and residential districts.
Most leaders of the attack were killed, but Marohombsar survived with a large amount of looted cash and jewelry from Marawi that authorities feared he could use to rebuild the militant’s battered organization and plot new attacks. One regional official, Zia Adiong, said at the time that Marohombsar escaped from Marawi with at least 30 million pesos ($566,000) in stolen money.
But troops hunted the extremist leader and his men down across Lanao.
“This is another milestone in our campaign to finish and defeat Daesh and local terror groups in the country,” Ano said, using an acronym for Daesh.
Ano was the former military chief who supervised the US- and Australian-backed offensive to crush the siege of Marawi, which sparked fears that Daesh was advancing its efforts to establish a foothold in the region.
Marohombsar’s killing will make it harder for Daesh to establish a firm presence in the country’s south, Ano said. The southern Philippines is the homeland of the largely Roman Catholic nation’s minority Muslims and the scene of decades-old Muslim separatist unrest.
“For now, his group is leaderless. We are monitoring who will replace Dar,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.
A Philippine army brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Romeo Brawner, said troops would pursue the rest of Marohombsar’s remaining fighters, mostly based in Lanao’s hinterlands, not far from Marawi.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte placed the country’s south under martial law to bolster efforts by troops to eradicate militants who survived the Marawi fighting and go after their allied groups in other southern provinces like the brutal Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu province.
Marohombsar’s death will likely strengthen the control of Abu Sayyaf leader Hajjan Sawadjaan, who is based in Sulu’s jungles, over a number of Daesh-linked armed groups in the south. Ano has said that Sawadjaan was installed as the new Daesh-aligned leader in the southern Philippines but that Marohombsar’s group was adamant to recognize him as its regional leader.
A Philippine police profile said Marohombsar was reported to have undergone military and explosives training in Afghanistan in 2005 and returned to the south a few years later and established an armed group called the Khilafa Islamiyyah Mindanao.
The group was implicated in the 2013 bombing of a bar in a shopping mall in southern Cagayan de Oro city that left several people dead and wounded.
Several more groups in the south pledged allegiance to Daesh the following years, allowing them to consolidate under the Daesh flag in 2015 and 2016 with then-Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon as their leader and launch the Marawi siege the following year. Hapilon was among the leaders killed by troops in the city.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 21 min 38 sec ago

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.