Maute gunmen in their teens
ILIGAN CITY — Bold, daring, and unusually playful.
This was how several evacuees described many of the Islamic State-inspired militants who have been laying siege on cold and scenic Marawi City for a week now, eliciting a 60-day Martial Law declaration
and sending thousands of residents in an exodus to safety.
The boldness, daring and playfulness may be due to their young age: the youngest was estimated to be around 13 years old. Evacuees gauged that the militants they saw and interacted with while they were evacuating out of the city last Wednesday were below 20 years old.
“They are just barely out of teenage life. And they take command from boys in their early to mid-20s,” said Norma, a Maranao government worker in her 50s, who had the most interaction with the militants
among the evacuees interviewed.
“That is why I addressed most of them as orak (boy) when I conversed with them while me and my family walked out of Marawi the day after the siege started,” she related in Tagalog.
Norma narrated that on Wednesday, at the height of the militants’ control over Marawi, a group of boys belonging to the “mga itim” (blacks) — in reference to the color of the IS banner — looted one convenience store.
As the younger militants hauled out the goods, the older ones sat lazily on the bench and sofa, each downing a bottle of cold drink and having casual conversation, Norma added.
Norma said several other boys laughed at her and repeatedly teased her when she cowered upon hearing gunfire while she and her family were asking them for a safe way out of the city.
“It seemed they were only playing,” said another evacuee who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from the local-based militants.
Faridah, another evacuee, recalled talking to young boys in Butig town years ago. She said she tried to talk them out of joining the militants but was instead lectured that “joining the jihad is our way of taking a shortcut to heaven.”
“I really wonder if they ever realize the implications of what they are doing,” Faridah sadly said.
“The boldness and daring that are inherent in the youth are being exploited to advance aims that these boys do not understand,” she added.
Two evacuees from Barangay Basak Malutlut related that at 3 p.m. on that fateful Tuesday (May 23), about five fully armed militants cut through a convoy of police and Army troops and fired at them. This led to the series of clashes that would engulf other villages of Marawi.
Amenodin said that the first scene of fighting was about 50 meters from an apartment believed to be where Abu Sayyaf leader and acknowledged IS Southeast Asia emir Isnilon Hapilon was holed up.
The eventual deployment of hundreds of militants to engage government forces in various parts of the city and the attacks on selected targets indicated these actions were well planned.
At the first sound of gunfire, employees of a nearby gun store immediately rolled down its steel doors. But in just a few minutes, 10 militants came barging into the store, held its owner and employees at gunpoint and hauled the inventory of guns and ammunition, an employee said.
The employee added that at about the same time, another group of militants also looted another gun store of the same owner in Banggolo district while those manning it fled for safety.
Norma, who was in Banggolo district to visit a relative, said police outposts were also simultaneously attacked and looted.
By 5 p.m., the militants were already laying metal blocks and barricades in the roads of Banggolo district and planted an IS flag at Plaza Cabili, the city’s main square named in honor of a senator who sponsored the charter of the once undivided Lanao province.
Like a movie
The next day, the residents woke up to a recorded announcement in Tagalog blaring from an IS flag-bearing police car commandeered by a militant that went around the city’s main urban districts.
“Babae at bata magsilikas na para hindi madisgrasya (Women and children should now evacuate to escape from possible harm),” Norma recalled the succinct message.
Soon, people began trooping out of their houses. “I ventured around Banggolo to investigate what’s really happening; I was still unconvinced as the events seemed to be the unfolding of scenes in a movie,” said Norma.
In one street corner, Norma passed by a throng of evacuees being asked questions by the young militants. Most of them, she related, were asked to recite some verses in the Qur-an relating to various topics.
A man in his early 20s was shot pointblank among the line of people while several others were picked and held in a house. The killing shook Norma and convinced her to leave the city with her family.
As she hurried to a relative’s house to fetch them, she bumped into another young militant who advised her to leave soonest “as something is afoot.”
Norma recalled that amid the scampering by people to get out of harm’s way, the militants styled themselves as the people’s protector, reminding them to “avoid as much as possible the Army.”
To support this conditioning, the militants told the evacuating residents that the night before, Army troops killed several religious personalities and niqqab-wearing women in Basak, Norma further said.
“They even apologized for the hassles that we have to go through in evacuating for safety but also asked the we just have to bear with them as that is supposedly the reality of jihad,” Norma said.
On their way out, Norma’s family passed by a printing shop commandeered by the militants to produce T-shirts and banners containing IS symbols.
Norma said that while Maranaos were the ones directly talking to evacuees, many of the militants appeared to be outsiders.
She recalled that when people tried to talk with them, they told them to talk to the Maranao militants and would respond in Tagalog. Some responded only with a nod when offered the traditional Muslim greeting.
Norma said they also saw some 10 tall and stocky bearded men “na mga mapuputi at may matangos na ilong” (who are fair-skinned and had pointed noses).
Most of the young militants are handsome and fair complexioned “indicating they are not toiling under the sun, which could mean they come from economically well-off families.” SFM
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