Calida: Military knew Marawi terror plot as early as April

Lian Buan

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Calida: Military knew Marawi terror plot as early as April
(UPDATED) Solicitor General Jose Calida reveals the government knew the Maute Group had been planning to attack Marawi to establish an ISIS province in Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Solicitor General Jose Calida submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) ahead of oral arguments Tuesday, June 13, a consolidated comment that contains some information about the Maute terror group and its supposed links to the Islamic State (ISIS).

Calida’s information and assertion in the comment can be gleaned as the government’s stance on ISIS, as he is the top lawyer defending President Rodrigo Duterte and his martial law proclamation before the High Court.

In the comment, Calida said the government had known as early as 2014 that there were links to ISIS being established by local groups in Mindanao. This is contrary to the stance taken by government at the time, under former president Benigno Aquino III: there is no ISIS in the Philippines.

Here are some of the other things Calida said about ISIS in his consolidated comment uploaded online by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). (READ: Nullify martial law? Your guide to the SC oral arguments)

1. The Philippine link was established as early as 2014.

Citing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Calida said propaganda materials obtained from ISIS indicate that local groups had already pledged their allegiance to the caliphate as early as November 2014. 

2. There are 4 local groups who have pledged their allegiance to ISIS.

The groups, Calida said, are the Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines (AKP) led by Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, Maute Group led by Omar Maute, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“These groups have formed alliances for the purpose of establishing a wilayah (province) in Mindanao,” the Solicitor General said.

3. The military has been monitoring Hapilon since December 2016.

Hapilon and 30 followers, including 8 foreign terrorists, were put under surveillance in Lanao del Sur in December 2016, according to Calida.

Citing military intelligence, the Solicitor General said Hapilon performed a symbolic hijra or pilgrimage to unite with other ISIS-inspired groups in mainland Mindanao.

This, Calida said, marked the start of Hapilon pledging allegiance to ISIS, which ends after 5 steps in the presentation to ISIS leadership for approval. (READ: Admit ISIS presence in the Philippines, analyst says)

4. Hapilon is the designated ISIS emir in the Philippines.

“The appointment of Hapilon as its Philippine emir was confirmed in a June 21, 2016 video by ISIS entitled, ‘The Solid Structure.’ The video hailed Hapilon as ‘the mujahid’ authorized to lead the soldiers of the Islamic State in the Philippines,” Calida said. (READ: What ISIS follower Isnilon Hapilon’s transcripts reveal about his childhood)

5. The military knew as early as April that the Maute Group had moved to launch an attack on Marawi.

The military launched a surgical operation in Marawi on May 23, 2017 with Hapilon as the target. However, Calida said they knew as early as April that the Maute Group was on the move.

“AFP intelligence reports disclose that as early as April 18, 2017, Abdullah Maute had dispatched his followers to the cities of Marawi, Iligan, and Cagayan de Oro to conduct bombing operations, carnapping, and ‘liquidation’ of AFP and PNP personnel in the said areas.”

Major General Rolando Bautista, the ground commander who ordered the raid, told Rappler on May 25 they received information on the plan of terrorist groups to seize Marawi “2-3 weeks before” the clashes.

They waited for the Maute brothers to make a move, but they were surprised to learn of Hapilon’s presence in the city. The military’s pursuit operations for Hapilon led to the clashes that continue to rage to this day.

6. The Maute Group wanted to raze Marawi during Ramadan.

“The ISIS-inspired local rebel groups had intended to burn down the entire city of Marawi on the day of Ramadan, or on May 26, 2017. The said attack would have served as the precursor for other rebel groups to stage their own uprisings across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah in the region,” Calida said.

“However, the planned attack by the rebels was foiled when government troops attempted to serve the warrant on May 23, 2017. This forced the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups to prematurely execute their planned siege of Marawi,” he added.

7. The Marawi attack was a precursor to establishing an ISIS province in Mindanao.

“The unified pledge of local rebel groups to ISIS is a consolidation of their efforts to establish a wilayah in Mindanao – with [the] Marawi siege setting the stage for this purpose,” Calida said.

There are 5 steps needed to gain the approval of the ISIS leadership, Calida said, and the 4th “requires the conduct of widespread atrocities and uprisings all across Mindanao.”

“In a video recording retrieved by the AFP, Hapilon, the Maute brothers, and other unidentified members of ISIS-inspired local rebel groups in Mindanao were documented while planning the attack in Marawi, as a prelude for another attack outside of the said city,” Calida said. (READ: Video shows terrorists planning Marawi attack – report)

These information, cited by the Solicitor General, is his main defense against the petitioners who said the Marawi siege is not an act of rebellion but a mere uprising to protect Hapilon. (READ: Calida invokes technicality to have martial law petitions dismissed)

“The siege of Marawi City cannot simply be characterized as the result of counter-measures against the government’s pursuit of Hapilon, but is a strategic and well-coordinated attack to overthrow the present government and to establish a wilayah in Mindanao,” Calida said. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.