KUALA LUMPUR: Unknown Malaysians may be among foreigners believed to be with dozens of pro-Islamic State (IS) militants still holed up in the southern Philippine city of Marawi after their location was revealed by a detained Indonesian militant recently.
A source in Marawi said Malaysians and Indonesians may be still hiding in a block or two in the main battle area of the besieged southern Philippine city, along with their local counterparts, days after the government announced the end of military operations in the city.
“Contrary to the government’s claim that the remaining dozens of militants still ‘straggling’ in the city were without a leader, they might have appointed a leader among themselves.
“Most probably, the leader was chosen among the local militants as they are more familiar with the area and local dialects.
“Clearing operations are still under way to flush out any remaining militants,” said the source.
It is not clear who the Malaysian militants may be. Several of them were reported to have been killed but their bodies have not been found.
Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana was reported as saying Sabahan Mohd Amin Baco could have been among 42 bodies recovered after the “final stand-off” with militants holed up in a building on Oct 23.
The military announced the cessation of operations after this.
But another report later said Amin could have slipped away.
Another Sabahan, Jeknal Adil, and former Selayang Municipal Council worker Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, were also said to have been killed but their bodies have yet to be found.
Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist, Mahmud Ahmad, who allegedly helped in the financing of the Marawi attacks, was also reported to have been killed. His body was visually identified by former hostages.
But the body has yet to be confirmed by DNA tests despite samples from his family in Malaysia having been obtained by the Malaysian authorities.
The whereabouts of a Malaysian teenage boy, who FMT earlier reported was seen by hostages fighting troops alongside his Sabahan militant father, are still unknown by the Philippine authorities.
Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) earlier told FMT it believed more than 30 Malaysians were involved in the Marawi siege, based on chatter on the rebel groups’ communication channels during the early stages of the siege.
Apparently, the identity of a majority of the Malaysians is still unknown or unreported.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the city free of terrorists on Oct 17 after a night ambush that killed Isnilon Hapilon and another mastermind of the Marawi siege, Omar Maute.
On Oct 31, one straggling militant was killed in the battle zone.
On Wednesday, Indonesian militant, Muhammad Ilham Shaputra, 23, revealed the whereabouts of the remaining militants. He was found with a handgun and fragmentation grenade after trying to escape by swimming in the city’s lake.
He claimed some 39 militants were still hiding in the main battle area in the city.
Also on Wednesday, two terrorists including a local known as Abu Talha, a former trusted aide to Isnilon, the slain Southeast Asia emir-designate of the IS, were killed during a clearing operation in Marawi.
Ranao Joint Task Force deputy commander Col Romeo Brawner Jt today said security agencies are currently verifying Ilham’s claim of militants still holed up in the battle area.
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed in the five-month battle which started on May 23.
Over 700 remains of terrorists and civilians, believed to have been killed, have yet to be found.
However, there are fears that some of these unaccounted militants may have escaped the authorities’ dragnet.