PETALING JAYA: The Philippine military believes Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Mahmud Ahmad is still in Marawi city, following the deaths of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute group leader Omar Maute.
Maj Gen Restituto Padilla said although the military was “not 100% sure”, based on current information, Mahmud was likely still in the area, The Philippine Star reported.
Padilla added that Mahmud was now the only remaining high-value target in the war-torn city.
“Right now, to my understanding, he is the one that is prominently on the list and no one else,” he was quoted as saying.
On Oct 16, Hapilon and Omar were confirmed killed in clashes with troops in southern Philippines.
Hapilon was the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group and emir-designate of the so-called Islamic State (IS) for Southeast Asia.
Omar, meanwhile, was the co-founder of the Maute militant group. His brother, Abdullah, the other co-founder, was reported to have been killed during fighting.
Following Hapilon’s death, Mahmud was identified as a key figure in the region with a security expert saying the militant leader could be installed as IS’ new emir for Southeast Asia.
Mahmud, who has a PhD in Islamic studies from a Malaysian university, is a respected figure within the militant network where he is called “doctor”.
He was reportedly trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.
A former hostage of the militants told FMT that he was the “ustaz” or religious teacher who would lecture about jihad (religious battles) to hostages within the mosque stronghold after congregational prayers.
He is said to have provided more than US$600,000 to finance the siege in Marawi.
Padilla was quoted as saying that the money could have been brought into the Philippines through “back doors” or other channels.
More than 1,000 people, mostly militants, have been killed during clashes between both terror groups and troops which erupted on May 23.