MANILA - Philippine security officials said on Thursday (Oct 19) there was a “big possibility” that top Malaysian terrorist Mahmud Ahmad was among 13 militants killed in a battle overnight in the southern city of Marawi.
Colonel Romeo Branwer, head of Task Force Ranao, told reporters in Marawi “our indications is that there was a belief he was there, and it was also revealed by hostages who were rescued last night”.
Military chief General Eduardo Ano said in a statement that security officials are “increasingly becoming confident that he was among those who have been killed during yesterdays operations”.
“The process to confirm this with finality, however, is still ongoing. Earlier information regarding this were received from the rescued hostages. We are now working on getting full confirmation,” he added.
Col Brawner said security forces were trying to recover the bodies of the militants killed last night, so they could confirm reports from hostages that Mahmud, 41, a former lecturer at Universiti Malaysia, was among them.
In a later message to reporters, Gen Ano said one of the hostages revealed that Mahmud was killed and buried on Wednesday (Oct 18) night. “We will look for the cadaver,” he said.
Mahmud is believed to have taken the helm of the Southeast Asian wing of the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following the death on Monday (Oct 16) of Isnilon Hapilon.
Mahmud and Bahrumsyah, head of Katibah Nusantra, an ISIS combat unit in Syria consisting mostly of fighters from Southeast Asia, funded the Marawi attack, according to the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
The two also recruited fighters for the audacious bid to seize Marawi and claim it as an ISIS “province”.
Security expert Rommel Banlaoi, director of the Centre for Intelligence and National Security Studies, said if confirmed, Mahmud’s death “would not mean the end of the ISIS threat in the Philippines because there are other high-value terrorists still active in Mindanao, not to mention foreign fighters from Indonesia and other parts of the world”.
Mr Banloi agreed with the military’s assessment that Mahmud “doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to combat ability”.
Military spokesman Major-General Restituto Padilla earlier said Mahmud was not as big a threat as Hapilon.
“He is an academic. He is not a fighter. His experience in fighting is not as expansive as Hapilon or Omar. His ability to lead the fight is not there,” he said.
The Marawi conflict began when hundreds of militants led by Hapilon stormed Marawi on May 23 and held parts of it for months. More than 1,000 militants, government troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict. Half of Marawi lies in ruins, levelled by air raids, artillery barrages and fierce urban fighting. About 400,000 people have been displaced.