Gov’t more convinced ISIS backing Maute
DAVAO CITY – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday said the government now believes that the fighting in Marawi City was being backed by the Islamic State because of the way the armed men were behaving.
Lorenzana told reporters at a press conference in Marawi City, which was aired live on TV, that it also appeared the armed men were determined to fight it out to the last man or bullet.
“Yes, we believe this is ISIS, because you know normally in this kind of conflict, the local armed groups will just scamper away and maybe hide in the mountains. But surprisingly, this group just holds out there and waits to fire it out maybe to the last (bullet),” he said.
Another piece of evidence, Lorenzana said, was the death of eight foreigners who fought alongside members of the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf, led by Basilan-based Isnilon Hapilon.
“Yes we were able to get some info that eight foreigners were initially killed during the first couple of day days of the fighting. Two Saudi nationals, two Indonesian, Two Malaysians, one from Yemen, one from India and one Chechen,” he said.
Lorenzana said there might have been other foreign fighters killed in the battle.
He said the arrival of foreign ISIS fighters, who were not Asians, were surprising and that he even asked officials how did this happen.
Lorenzana said as for Malaysians and Indonesians, they looked like Filipinos so it would not be surprising if they came in undetected.
“I was talking to the (Marawi) mayor (Majul Gandamra) (Friday) and he said maybe they were able to infiltrate slowly here. The Mautes have lot of relatives in Lanao. The infiltration of foreigners was a little bit puzzling because they were not able to detect them,” he said.
Lorenzana said the response he got was that maybe the non-Asian foreign fighters were able to come in through the aid of some locals during the Tabligh (convention),” he said referring to the convention of a group of Sunni Islamic missionaries here that ended about a day before the clashes began.
The Tabligh Jamaat is a global non-political movement that aims to convince Muslims to return to the practice of primary Sunni Islam.
But Lorenzana said some of the foreign fighters killed might have used the Tabligh convention “to get inside the city.”
He also said that the ISIS was able to connect with the Maute group through Hapilon.
“The way we look at how this happened was that the ISIS were only able to get Hapilon from Basilan, not the other Abu Sayyaf from Jolo or other place in Mindanao. Part of instruction that Hapilon got from ISIS in Middle East is to come to Lanao and establish a wilayat or a province, that’s why he was elevated to the rank of emir by the ISIS,” he said.
Lorenzana said the government will “try to contain them here” but could not say how long the fighting would go on.
“We predicted last week that we could finish this (Friday) but we could not. There are problems along the way, there are people there trapped and we could not go there without endangering their safety,” he said.
Lorenzana said the “Maute-ISIS” group has also occupied some mosques “and you know it is difficult to bomb these mosques.”
He said the armed men, numbering between 200-300 now, were contained in the area of Barangay (village) Banggolo, Marawi’s central business district and were “surrounded by troops.”
“Our troops are going into this slowly but I cannot tell you how many days more but we will going to end this soon. As I’ve said a while ago, we have surrounded them but we will leave it to the ground commanders on how to do it,” he said.
Lorenzana said the remaining gunmen are still able to put up a good fight “and giving us difficulty in clearing the area plus the civilians trapped.”
Inquirer calls for support for the victims in Marawi City
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