MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law over Mindanao on Tuesday, May 23, prompted by a raging gun battle between government forces and members of the Maute group in Marawi City.
The local terrorist group based in Lanao del Sur has carried out several bombings and kidnappings, and has been active in recent months. It has also pledged allegiance to international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), carrying and raising ISIS black flags and insignia.
This latest clash in Marawi came about as the military on Tuesday launched a surgical strike in barangay Basak Malutlut against “high value targets” belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group.
Clashes erupted between the two sides, with residents later reporting on social media that fires reportedly broke out and electricity cut as the situation worsened into the night. (TIMELINE: Marawi clashes prompt martial law in all of Mindanao)
Who’s behind the Maute group?
The group, which also calls itself Daulah Islamiyah, is led by Abdullah Maute, the eldest of the Maute brothers. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, the brothers “went from petty small-time criminals to full fledged militant activity when they created Khalifa Islamiah Mindanao in 2012.”
According to military sources, Abdullah’s father, Cayamora Maute, was a senior official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is now involved in peace talks with the government. His sons later criticized the MILF leadership and later pledged allegiance to ISIS.
How is the Maute group related to ISIS?
In an October 2016 report, a Jakarta-based think tank warned of “cross-border extremist operations” after tracing direct links between 4 Philippine terror groups – among them the Maute group – and pro-ISIS fighters in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia.
One of the group’s leaders, Omar Maute, is married to an Indonesian whom he met while studying in Egypt, according to the report.
“Omar Maute’s own family ties to Bekasi, fluency in Indonesian and knowledge of social media may have given him a wider international network than the Philippines government has even begun to suspect,” the report added.
In November 2016, Duterte himself confirmed the Maute group’s links with ISIS, saying the intelligence community has advised him that ISIS “has vitally connected to the group in the Philippines called the Maute.”
But the Philippine military has maintained that the homegrown terror group has not established direct links, and was only seeking attention to court ISIS’ support.
What attacks have been blamed on the Maute Group?
The group has been active since last year, with its members launching attacks in Lanao del Sur.
- February to March 2016: The Maute group established 3 strongholds in Lanao del Sur and displaced nearly 30,000 people. During that time, the group attacked a military camp and beheaded a soldier. The military regained control after 10 days.
- April 2016: Facebook photos showed the group beheading 2 of 6 sawmill workers kidnapped in Butig. The two workers, wearing orange jumpsuits similar to the style of ISIS public executions, were killed allegedly because they were military informants.
- August 2016: 50 men freed 8 Maute members and 20 others from a Lanao del Sur jail. An ISIS propaganda arm later claimed the foreign terror group was behind the prison raid.
- October 2016: 3 members of the Maute group were arrested for allegedly carrying out the September bombing in a Davao City night market, the President’s own hometown. (READ: Who’s behind the Davao bombing?)
- November 2016: Members of the Maute group occupied the Butig Municipal Hall and raised ISIS’ black flag. Government troops were able to retake control of the abandoned government building after weeks of military operations.
Has the Maute group reached Metro Manila?
In November last year, an improvised explosive device was found near the US embassy in Manila, with two suspects linked to the Maute group later arrested.
According to an Interpol report, “the foiled bombing in Metro Manila was meant to distract the attention of the authorities and relieve the pressure on the Maute group from the military authorities surrounding them in Butig, Lanao del Sur.”
In March this year, the Philippine National Police said the group had established a presence in Metro Manila, although the Armed Forces of the Philippines later contradicted this, saying it has not monitored the presence of Maute members in the capital region. – Rappler.com