Radicalized in Mideast, Maute brothers razed their Christian school
MARAWI CITY — Twenty years after obtaining Christian education, Muslim brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute returned to this Central Mindanao city with the black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group and set fire to their alma mater.
Hundreds of gunmen, many of them young locals recruited by the Maute brothers, destroyed Dansalan College in a rampage through Marawi City last month as they launched a brutal offensive to stamp their credentials as the IS leaders in the Philippines.
Their bold attack turned the Maute siblings, who are in their mid-30s, into the most infamous high school alumni of the Protestant Church-run institution, which had been a symbol of religious tolerance in the mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people.
The Maute brothers have since remained holed up in Marawi, using their local knowledge of tunnels and bombproof basements to withstand a military offensive that has left entire neighborhoods in ruins and claimed more than 300 lives.
Where is hate coming from?
“We do not understand where that hate is coming from,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the legislative assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that includes Marawi.
Duma Sani, a former dean of Mindanao State University whose daughter also went to Dansalan College with one of the Maute brothers, said most locals did not support their radical Islamic brand that mandated the killing of nonbelievers.
“These [Marawi gunmen] are young people who have their own interpretation of the Quran and who do not respect their own elders,” Sani told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Maute group emerged as a small ragtag group around 2012 from a decades-old Moro separatist rebellion in Mindanao.
As the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main rebel organization, sought to broker peace with the government, the Maute and other small hardline groups filled a vacuum for fanatics as they took inspiration from the atrocities of IS in Iraq and Syria.
“I think what transformed the Mautes from a small band of siblings to a real serious military threat was the emergence of Isis in the Middle East,” security analyst Sidney Jones told AFP, using an alternative acronym for the extremist group.
Radicalized much earlier
But the Maute brothers were radicalized much earlier—while they were pursuing studies in the Middle East after college, according to Jones and Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
Omarkhayam headed to Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, while Abdullah went to Jordan.
Banlaoi said the brothers returned to Mindanao after about a decade away to be mentored by a fugitive Indonesian militant, Ustadz Sanussi, who in turn put them in touch with other Southeast Asian jihadis, notably the Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir.
With an engineer father and a mother involved in construction and property development, the Mautes are part of Muslim Mindanao’s elite.
They also have blood ties to one of the top MILF leaders, Banlaoi said. “These connections gave the group a measure of protection.”
Since the Marawi fighting broke out, the mother and father of the Mautes have been arrested. Authorities have said the arrest of the mother was particularly important, describing her as a financier of the Maute group.
All her seven sons are believed to be involved in the Marawi conflict, according to Banlaoi.
But Jones said the mother was not the driving force of radicalism—rather, she and other family members had been led by Omarkhayam and Abdullah.
The Maute group’s main ally is Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group who is on the US government’s list of most wanted terrorists.
Hapilon, whom IS has named as its leader in the Philippines, is believed to be in Marawi with the Maute brothers.
Jones, director of Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said leadership had effectively shifted to the Maute brothers because they were controlling events in Marawi.
New base for IS group
Regardless of whether the Maute brothers are driven out of Marawi, they have established the Philippines as a successful new base for IS, Jones said, pointing to foreign fighters who had been reported killed in the conflict.
The military has said that slain fighters have come from countries including Chechnya, Libya, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Suddenly, foreign fighters who [have] never set foot in the Middle East [are] going to Mindanao,” Jones said.
“Marawi in particular has become the new sexy destination for jihad,” he added. —AFP
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