KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Mahmud Ahmad is said to have acted as an ustaz (religious teacher) to his hostages at a mosque used as a command centre by militants in Marawi city, southern Philippines.
Mahmud reportedly received training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden while studying at Pakistan’s Islamabad Islamic University in the late 1990s.
He then returned to Malaysia and obtained his doctoral degree at the University of Malaya where he taught at the Department of Aqidah and Islamic Thought.
Mahmud fled to southern Philippines in 2014 after his militant background was exposed by police.
Mathematics and history teacher Lordvin Acopio, who was rescued on Sept 16 after being held captive for 117 days by the militants, said Mahmud would often come to the Bato Mosque where the hostages were held to lecture on jihad.
“The Malaysians were often at the frontline fighting, but Mahmud always came to the Bato Mosque to give ‘dangwa’ (‘dakwah’ or sermon) to us hostages, about 50 of us, after the prayers,” the Filipino told FMT.
“He gave his sermon with full conviction in his beliefs. He sounded very intelligent and full of spirit. The lectures would take about 30 minutes.
“He spoke in English mixed with Tagalog. We just listened to him. He would lecture about the Quran and jihad. He said every Muslim must take part in jihad.”
In another news report, Acopio had admitted praying with his Muslim captors, confirming military reports that hostages had been forced to convert to Islam.
Omar Maute, who the military said is the last Maute brother leading the Maute group, even gave his name to Acopio, stripping him of his Christian name after he was captured, reports had said.
When asked whether Mahmud or any of the Malaysian militants had forced him to become a Muslim, Acopio declined to comment.
Almost 200 troops and more than 700 militants have been killed so far during the clashes which began after a failed attempt by security forces to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group, who along with the Maute group, stormed the city.
Acopio said the hostages would be moved by the rebels from one abandoned house to another.
They finally settled in Bato Mosque where they spent most of their captivity until he escaped during a military offensive on Sept 16 after being held hostage for 117 days.
Acopio also spoke about the women hostages, who were kept separately from them.
Mahmud, Acopio said, was responsible for appointing nurses from among the female hostages to tend to injured fighters.
“I often saw Mahmud in charge of assigning the female hostages to serve as nurses to treat the injured militants,” said Acopio.
“Mahmud would choose one of the young and single female hostages to tend to them until the fighter recovered.”
News reports have quoted the military as saying that some hostages were forced to marry the militants or serve them as sex slaves.
When asked whether he saw any forced marriages or any of the female captives being treated as sex slaves, Acopio did not the discount this possibility.
“I don’t have full info on them. The female hostages were kept separately from us,” he said.
“They were just nurses but, I don’t know, maybe there was a (forced) marriage too.”
FMT earlier reported Acopio as saying he had met two other Malaysians, apart from Mahmud, seven Indonesians and one Arab during his captivity.
The Indonesians dealt with explosives while the Malaysians and Arab were frontline fighters, according to Acopio.
Today, the Star reported that one of the Malaysian militants, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, was believed to have been killed on Thursday.
The 42-year-old former employee of the Selayang Municipal Council is believed to have been killed during aerial bombing as troops regained Bato Mosque.