Philippine forces seize $2.2m from militants

Confiscated cash and cheques amounting to 79 million pesos (S$2.2 million) being displayed by the Philippine military at a press conference in the provincial capital of Marawi City yesterday.
A handout photo from the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Centre of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor showing damaged buildings in Marawi. The authorities said fierce fighting has killed 120 militants, 38 soldiers, and up to 38 civilians. The clashes began on May 23 when a military operation failed to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the designated head of ISIS in South-east Asia. PHOTO: GPH-MILF PEACE
A handout photo from the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Centre of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor showing damaged buildings in Marawi. The authorities said fierce fighting has killed 120 militants, 38 soldiers, and up to 38 civilians. The
Confiscated cash and cheques amounting to 79 million pesos (S$2.2 million) being displayed by the Philippine military at a press conference in the provincial capital of Marawi City yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Father of two brothers leading insurrection also arrested

Security forces have seized bundles of banknotes and cheques worth some 79 million pesos (S$2.2 million) from Islamist militants holed up in the southern city of Marawi, and arrested the father of two brothers leading the insurrection.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, a spokesman for Joint Task Force Marawi, told reporters yesterday that 52 million pesos in cash and 27 million pesos worth of cheques made out for cash were found on Monday inside a house in Marawi's Mapandi district.

The banknotes, neatly stacked and wrapped in plastic, and the cheques were found inside a vault, and the house was guarded by a machine-gun nest and snipers.

"This shows that (the militants) are well connected. They have supporters, they have sympathisers, with funding from international terrorist organisations," said Lt-Col Herrera.

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But it was not clear where the money came from, or whether the insurgents had it stashed before their assault on the city of 200,000 inhabitants two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, soldiers and policemen manning a checkpoint leading to Davao City yesterday morning arrested Cayamora Maute, reportedly the father of brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah, who founded a group named after them that is seeking recognition from the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Also arrested were Cayamora's second wife, daughter, son-in-law and driver of the van they hired. They were purportedly on their way to a hospital in Davao to seek treatment for Cayamora.

Hundreds of fighters, mostly from the Maute group, seized large parts of Marawi on May 23, after a botched military raid on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, the designated head of ISIS in South-east Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao province after the start of the siege. The ensuing fierce fighting has killed 120 militants, 38 soldiers, and up to 38 civilians, the authorities said.

Dozens of foreigners from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Morocco are believed to be fighting with the militants.

Security officials earlier said the insurgents were prepared for a drawn-out siege of Marawi, as they had recovered weapons, ammunition and food provisions hidden in mosques, tunnels and basements all over the city.

Asked if the money recovered on Monday could have come from three banks in Marawi that the militants ransacked in the early days of the fighting, Lt-Col Herrera said the matter was being investigated.

But Mr Ernesto Abella, President Duterte's spokesman, said at a news briefing yesterday that the money was amassed from 2014 to last year. "Based on the records, I think it has been slowly accumulated over the past two years."

Mr Duterte has vowed to clear Marawi of all militants and end the siege this week.

The military, however, is not committing to any deadline, as ground troops engage in pitched battles against a highly mobile, well- stocked enemy that is more familiar with the terrain.

General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, said security forces have cornered some 100 gunmen, but flushing them out has been difficult because they are holed up in a commercial district where there are several buildings. "Their well-placed snipers are hindering our advance. But in a few days... we will clear all of Marawi," he said.

Local officials, meanwhile, are focusing on rescuing civilians still trapped in districts held by the militants. A four-hour ceasefire to evacuate residents was marred by gunfire on Sunday, leaving hundreds of civilians who had hoped to flee the fighting stuck in their homes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'Philippine forces seize $2.2m from militants'. Print Edition | Subscribe