Maute gunmen find no safe haven in Lanao del Sur villages
MARAWI CITY — A village official’s refusal to let terrorists set foot in his territory cost him his life but his case showed how civilians were increasingly resisting attempts by homegrown terror groups to recruit followers in some of Mindanao’s remotest areas, according to authorities.
According to officials of Lanao del Sur, the village official who resisted the entry of Maute group into his area in the town of Tubaran was killed by followers of Owayda Benito Marohombsar, alias Abu Dar, now the most senior leader of Maute after the deaths of the Maute brothers during the war in Marawi City.
Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao reported the shooting of Hadji Ansary, chief of Madaganding village in Tubaran, in his house on May 13.
“He was shot dead because of his refusal to allow members of the terrorist group to enter his barangay,” said Soraya Adiong, governor of Lanao del Sur.
Door shut to Maute
The people of Lanao del Sur, according to Adiong, had already shut the door to Maute.
Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan said it was Dar himself who shot Ansary.
The killing, the congressman said, was witnessed by Ansary’s wife, who recognized Dar because the terror leader did not wear a mask.
Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of the antiterror Joint Task Force Ranao, said Dar and about 40 of his men were being hunted by soldiers in Tubaran and another Lanao del Sur town, Pagayawan.
At least two Dar followers were killed but Brawner said the military was still checking if these were Amin Macarimbang and Alan Alamid.
Brawner said Dar’s group had been cornered in the forests between Tubaran and Pagayawan and “all security forces” had been on high alert to prevent the group from entering other areas.
Adiong, addressing people of Lanao del Sur, said “the provincial government is doing everything” to provide aid to the displaced.
Lt. Col. Allan Villanueva, commander of the 49th Infantry Battalion, said the military had shifted to ground operations after bombarding Dar’s hideouts from the air and through artillery fire.
“We assure the safety of civilians,” Villanueva said. He said residents of four villages that had been cleared were told to return.
Adiong said the number of evacuees swelled to 11,170 people on Wednesday.
Mayor Khaled Yassin Papandayan of Tubaran town said evacuees in his area already received relief goods and sanitary packs.
Some of the evacuees in Tubaran were from other towns, the mayor said.
Malacañang, however, said the hunt for Maute in Lanao del Sur should not cause alarm because martial law was still in place in Mindanao and Maute had already been decimated.
“This should not be a reason for worry because their forces are few and because of the martial law being implemented there,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
“The enemy will have difficulty in having tangible gains,” he said.
Maute and Abu Sayyaf joined forces in May 2017 to try to establish an Islamic State province in predominantly Muslim Marawi.
Roque said, however, that the hunt for Maute remnants in Lanao del Sur showed there was still a need for martial law.
“This is proof that we still have enemies in Mindanao,” Roque said.
While the emergence of a new leader of Maute was a cause for concern, Roque said the military was more than prepared to defeat terrorists and protect Lanao del Sur residents.
“We cannot assure that we don’t have enemies in Lanao del Sur,” Roque said. “But I can assure that our military is ready to protect the civilians of Lanao del Sur,” he added. —Reports from Richel Umel, Divina Suson and Julie M. Aurelio
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