Philippine security forces yesterday arrested one of seven brothers behind an ultra-radical Muslim group that has held parts of the southern city of Marawi for more than three weeks.
Mohammad Noaim Maute, described as a senior member of the Maute group and a trained bomb-maker, was nabbed at a checkpoint in Cagayan de Oro, 66km from Marawi, just after dawn, Major Ezra Balagey, spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said in a report.
Maute, said to be an Arabic teacher, was found with a fake Mindanao State University identity card.
"The subject was involved in bombing incidents in Mindanao previously… He is the youngest of the Maute clan. They have seven children by the matriarch, and he is the youngest," Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, told reporters without giving Maute's age.
He said Maute was also involved in the killing of two of six sawmill workers abducted by the militant group in April.
Maute denied that he was a "bomb expert", and said he was a cousin, not a brother, of Omarkhayam and Abdullah, who led hundreds of Muslim insurgents that attacked Marawi on May 23 after a botched military raid on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, head of the South-east Asia wing of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Five Asean defence ministers to meet next week
JAKARTA • The defence ministers of five South-east Asian countries will meet next week to discuss the ISIS threat, said Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu yesterday.
He said he will meet his counterparts from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore in Tarakan, North Kalimantan.
The meeting is expected to coincide with the launch of joint patrols in the seas south of Philippines' Mindanao island that borders Malaysia and Indonesia. "This meeting is held to update each other, so we can be ready if anything happens," Mr Ryamizard said, as quoted by Indonesian news agency Antara. He said the meeting will look at ways to prevent the ISIS-linked Maute group from crossing into Indonesia.
Most of the other six Maute brothers are believed to still be in Marawi. Their parents were taken into custody last week.
YOUNGEST OF MAUTE CLAN
The subject was involved in bombing incidents in Mindanao previously… He is the youngest of the Maute clan. They have seven children by the matriarch, and he is the youngest.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL RESTITUTO PADILLA, the military spokesman, on Mohammad Noaim Maute.
The mother, Romato Maute, also known as Farhana, was charged with rebellion yesterday. Believed to be a financier of the Maute group, she was arrested on June 9 as she was being spirited out of Lanao del sur province near Marawi.
Mr Zia Alonto Adiong, a politician helping in rescue and relief efforts, said residents fleeing Marawi had seen scores of bodies in an area where intense fighting has taken place.
"Dead bodies, at least 100, scattered around the encounter area," he told reporters.
The army has said 290 people have been killed in the more than three weeks of fighting - 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians.
The Mautes had linked up with the Abu Sayyaf group in what security officials said was an audacious bid to seize Marawi, a mainly Muslim lakeside city, on May 23 and declare it as an ISIS "province".
Armed with anti-tank weapons, machine guns and sniper rifles, the militants have managed to hold back an army brigade for a fourth week. They have kept control of at least four districts, amid air strikes and ground assaults.
Number of people killed in the more than three weeks of fighting - 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians.
"They have planned for this for a long time and may have laid caches of arms in certain areas that will sustain them as they move into the interiors when they make a retreat or consolidation," said Brig-Gen Padilla.
Lieutenant-Colonel Jay-Ar Herrera, spokesman for Task Force Marawi, said that government troops had begun moving into districts held by some 100 to 200 militants.
"As you observed, there are no air strikes, so we have neutralised several defensive key positions. In terms of territory, the battlefield right now constitutes 10 per cent of Marawi, specifically in four barangays (districts)," he said.
But snipers remained a problem, he added.
He said skirmishes were still happening near three bridges that government forces had secured.
"The battlefield is very fluid, very dynamic. So, we have to reassess, re-strategise our options."