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Where is Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Mahmud Ahmad?

 | October 18, 2017

Mahmud is believed to be more calculative than slain militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.

Mahmud-Ahmad-isis-1KOTA KINABALU: Even as details of the killing of Islamic State’s (IS) Southeast Asian emir Isnilon Hapilon in southern Philippines begin to emerge, many around the world wonder where his Malaysian right-hand man Mahmud Ahmad is now.

Mahmud, a doctorate-level lecturer-turned-terrorist, was hardly in the news before Isnilon and fellow militant leader Omar Maute were killed in an ambush by Philippine special forces past midnight Monday.

The 39-year-old Islamic studies lecturer garnered a lot of attention in the Malaysian media and elsewhere, with particular interest in the Philippines.

But, now, western media including the Washington Post and New York Times are getting up to speed in reporting on him, a man they had hardly heard of before.

After news broke of the killings of Isnilon and Omar, the latter a co-founder of the Maute militant group, Mahmud was tipped as the successor to Isnilon as Southeast Asia leader of the IS.

Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asian security expert at the Washington-based National War College, told FMT Mahmud had the pedigree to be the next so-called emir.

But he did not discount the possibility that Filipinos with regional, especially Indonesian connections, may also fill the position.

On Tuesday, military spokesman Maj Gen Restituto Padilla told reporters they believed 20-30 militants were still holed up in Marawi City in Mindanao.

This number included some six to eight foreign nationals, among them Mahmud who was believed to have bankrolled the months-long siege.

Padilla said operations were ongoing to flush out the remnants of the militants, including Mahmud.

Later that same day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that Marawi City had been liberated of terrorists.

Strangely enough, Duterte’s announcement came just a few hours after an explosion and gunfire were heard, the AFP news agency reported.

Analysts and experts including Abuza had long expressed worry that the government was rushing with its pronouncements.

Initially, the authorities said they had got Isnilon and Omar thanks to intelligence they received from a female hostage who escaped, leading to the successful ambush by the 8th Scout Ranger Company, police and a mechanised unit of the army.

Later, the authorities revealed Isnilon and Omar had offered a huge sum of money to some hostages to arrange boats for them.

The militant leaders reportedly wanted to escape the military’s dragnet by crossing the lake in Marawi.

It is believed there were other militants with the duo prior to their botched escape as some militants unsuccessfully tried to recover Isnilon and Omar’s bodies.

It is not clear whether Mahmud was among those whose attempt to retrieve the bodies was prevented by gunfire from the alert commandos that fateful night.

Sources in Marawi told FMT Mahmud might even have been elsewhere during the ambush.

Today, Padilla released a damning detail.

Isnilon and Omar were trying to abandon their own men during that foiled escape, he said.

This would be a major blow to the morale of the remaining militants.

But analysts said it might be the government’s psychological ploy to persuade the militants to surrender.

Sources, however, said that all the militants, not just Isnilon and Hapilon, might have planned all along to escape and regroup elsewhere.

So Marawi could indeed now be free of terrorists because they were on their way to wage violent jihad somewhere else, a possibility the Philippine government earlier said existed.

“This would gel with the talk that Mahmud or an influential Filipino militant is being touted to be the next regional emir of the Islamic State.

“They don’t have to rush to appoint a leader. They are a loose outfit who can agree on an ad hoc leader. They can appoint one leader and tell IS central to ratify and announce it if they want,” a source said.

Whether the militants are still holed up or had fled, Mahmud would be the man to watch, Abuza said.

Mahmud reportedly was trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan when he was a student at the Islamabad Islamic University in Pakistan.

He was also responsible for arranging Malaysian fighters to fight in Syria and train in southern Philippines before the Marawi clashes.

When FMT contacted Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun after word got out about Isnilon and Omar’s deaths, he said Mahmud was still alive.

But when asked where Mahmud was, Fuzi declined to say.

He said the Philippine authorities were in constant communication with Malaysia as to the whereabouts of Mahmud.

Mahmud is highly educated and a scholar. A former hostage told FMT he was respected and remained inside the inner leadership circle of the militants.

His education may make him a more calculative operative than Isnilon and Omar.

Where Mahmud is, only time will tell.

But the smart money is that he will not make the same mistake of trusting hostages with their escape transport detail.


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