MANILA, Philippines – Marawi City has been liberated after nearly 5 months of fighting between government forces and local armed groups who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).
Two top leaders – Maute Group leader Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon – were killed a day earlier, but the military is continuing its hunt for top Malaysian terrorist Mahmud Ahmad.
Mahmud, a Malaysian university lecturer who holds a doctorate in religious studies, is among several foreign fighters who joined the Marawi City siege.
According to a July 2017 report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), Mahmud helped facilitate the transfer of funds from ISIS in Syria through Indonesia to the Philippines, where the money was likely used for the preparation of the May 23 attack on Marawi City.
The transactions were arranged through the secure messaging app Telegram and money wire transfers on Western Union.
According to the report, ISIS channeled $600,000 through Mahmud.
Aside from funding, Mahmud also had another key role: recruiting foreign fighters who wanted to join the fighting in Marawi.
"Dr Mahmud controlled recruitment as well as financing and has been the contact person for any foreigner wanting to join the pro-ISIS coalition in the Philippines," the report said.
Mahmud was also seen being involved in the planning of the attack. In a raid at a Maute safe house in May, the Philippine military recovered a video showing Hapilon, Mahmud, and other leaders planning the Marawi attack.
The video was supposedly propaganda material that they would show ISIS if they managed to establish a caliphate in Marawi.
Before his involvement in the Marawi attack, Mahmud was notorious in Malaysia as a former university lecturer turned extremist militant.
According to a report by Malaysian newspaper The Star, Mahmud underwent training at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in the late 90s while studying at the Islamabad Islamic University in Pakistan.
He was involved in recruiting and training militants who wanted to fight with ISIS in Syria. Mahmud was put on Malaysia's most-wanted list in April 2014 after leaving the country to work with the Abu Sayyaf along with his aide, bomb maker Mohammad Najib Husen.
Mahmud is also said to be the second-in-command to Hapilon, supposedly the emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia. – Rappler.com