KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysian militant Amin Baco, also known as Abu Jihad, could have slipped out of a military cordon at a mosque in the Philippine city of Marawi after offering to surrender with his group days earlier, according to sources.
Intelligence sources said the 34-year-old had been holed up with about 30 Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gunmen at the mosque in Sabala Manao village that was surrounded by Philippines military snipers.
Late last week, Amin, who is believed to be the leader of the group, sent out feelers wanting to surrender following the death of another Malaysian militant, Mahmud Ahmad, the Universiti Malaya lecturer-turned-terrorist.
The sources said he could have abandoned the other militants and escaped to the neighbouring villages in Marawi, which the Philippine government has liberated from the fighters.
It was initially suspected that Amin, could have been killed after 42 terrorists, including two women and foreign fighters, were found dead on Monday following a final assault on Marawi.
The sources said many of the bodies were decomposing, indicating they could have been killed much earlier.
"This has made it difficult to identify the dead militants, especially the foreigners," said a source who believed that there was no indication that Amin and other Malaysians were among them.
Although Mahmud's body has yet to be identified, intelligence sources said that based on witnesses' account, they were certain that a sniper's bullet had killed him.
Mahmud was previously touted as the next in line to Isnilon Hapilon, the slain emir of ISIS in South-east Asia.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said the city had been freed from militants and declared an end to the military's combat operations which began on May 23.
The military are also hunting for Isnilon's three sons.
Amin, who is from Sabah, married into a prominent Abu Sayyaf family in Jolo island in southern Philippines. His father-in-law is the late Hatib Sawadjaan, head of an Abu Sayyaf faction.
He was among the group which Mahmud described as one of the masterminds and fundraisers of the Marawi siege that saw a local Maute family team up with Abu Sayyaf and foreign fighters to set up a caliphate in the Philippine island of Mindanao.
Amin, a former member of Darul Islam Sabah (DIS), an offshoot of Indonesia's Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah, had facilitated militant travel and firearms smuggling between Indonesia and the Philippines, via Sabah.
He has been on the Malaysian police "wanted list" since a 2006 crackdown against DIS that saw 16 of its members arrested under the now-abolished Internal Security Act.
He is believed to have teamed up with a stateless 30-year-old Sabahan of Filipino descent known as Jeknal Adil, also known as Jek.