KOTA KINABALU • Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Mahmud Ahmad could soon be the leader of the offshoot of terrorist group ISIS in the southern Philippines, The Star reported yesterday, quoting intelligence sources.
Mahmud, 39, is believed to be holed up in Marawi City, where the Philippine army is battling the extremist Maute group, which has seen 44 people, including two Malaysians, killed.
He has been identified as the next man to create a bastion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in South-east Asia, which is now under the command of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, sources say.
Hapilon, 51, was declared the emir (leader) of ISIS forces in the Philippines early last year, but is reportedly badly injured after an aerial attack on Basilan island about two months ago.
Mahmud, who is also known as Abu Handzalah, led fellow militants to rescue Hapilon in the Marawi attack, the sources say.
Mahmud trained at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden while studying at Pakistan's Islamabad Islamic University in the late 1990s and returned to Malaysia to lecture at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He fled to the Philippines after being exposed as an extremist by police in 2014.
He has been identified as a chief recruiter by the militants who trained and sent Malaysians to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, sources have identified the two Malaysians who were killed amid the fighting in Marawi City as Abdurahman Asmawi from Kelantan and Kamsa Yahya from Kedah.
It could not be immediately established if the two were involved with the militant group or were visiting the Muslim-majority city on Mindanao island.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK