KOTA KINABALU: Getting Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Mahmud Ahmad is a priority, the Philippine military said on Thursday.
The military believes Mahmud is still alive and fighting government troops, along with a dwindling force of militants in besieged Marawi city, southern Philippines.
Benar News quoted regional military chief Lt General Carlito Galvez as saying that Mahmud had eluded his troops and had dug in, along with local militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
“Mahmud is alive, along with Hapilon and Omar. But our troops are determined to neutralise them as we are making our final push. Mahmud is among six to eight foreign militants still on the frontline.
“Getting Mahmud is a priority,” Galvez was reported as saying by Benar News.
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 returned to Malaysia to lecture at Universiti Malaya. After being exposed as a militant by Malaysian police in 2014, he fled to southern Philippines.
In June, Mahmud was reported to have died of wounds sustained in fighting but there was no report of his body being found then.
General Eduardo Año of the Philippine military had earlier been reported as saying that Mahmud had died on June 7 after being wounded in the fighting in Marawi in May.
But he is apparently still alive, as he had been sighted by hostages who were rescued last month.
Another Malaysia militant in Marawi, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, was confirmed by the authorities to have been killed. However, his body has not been found yet.
Ranao joint task force deputy commander Col Romeo Brawner Jr was yesterday reported as saying that many bodies of suspected terrorists, including foreigners, had been found.
However, according to reports, a number of the recovered bodies have not been identified, a lengthy process that is being helped by investigators from the US, which has a US$5 million bounty on Hapilon.
Sources familiar with forensic science told FMT that only “a body DNA’ed or physically and positively identified can be used to confirm 100% that a person is dead.”
When contacted, Malaysian police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun told FMT that they had yet to receive word of Joraimee’s body being found.
More than 1,000 people, mostly militants, have been killed in the clashes between troops and the Abu Sayyaf and Maute militant groups led by Hapilon and Omar respectively.