by Ali Macabalang
Dawla Islamiyah (DI) militants, amid reports about their shrinking forces and depleting ammunitions, have offered to release 100 hostages, including Roman Catholic priest Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, in exchange for their safe exit and simultaneous withdrawal of transient security forces from war-torn Marawi City.
“They (DI leaders) want a (government) guarantee for their safe retreat to the jungle simultaneously with the pullout of transient security forces before Fr. Chito and other captives will be freed,” well-informed sources revealed in the Maranao vernacular.
Citing revelations by hostages who had earlier escaped, the military on Monday said at least 150 members of the Dawla Islamiyah, more popularly known as the Maute Group, remain holed up in Marawi. Some 100 hostages remain at the hands of the militants, while Fr. Suganob has been spotted alive.
Fr. Suganob was taken hostage, along with some parishioners at the Dansalan College complex in Marawi City in the early stages of the siege.
But the government has not sanctioned any negotiations with terrorists in Marawi City and instead vowed to hold them accountable for their offenses, while looking forward to ending the conflict before President Duterte’s second State-of-the-Nation Address on July 24, 2017.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said this, dismissing the Maute terror leader’s reported demand for the release of parents and relatives of the group in exchange for the freedom of hostages.
“Government policy not to negotiate with terrorists remains,” Abella said in a Palace news conference.
“Hence, the local religious leader-led talks with the terrorists is one of that was not sanctioned by the government, the military, and our political leaders. Any demands made inside therefore hold no basis,” he said.
WHY THEY WANT SAFE EXIT
One of the militants still holed up in Marawi confided to the sources, who requested anonymity, that four factors compelled the DI fighters to resort to “retreat” option. These are: The depletion of war materials; the intercession of moderate elder ulama (religious leaders); their sudden abandonment by Islamic State-anointed “emir” for Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon; and the death of an elder brother of Omar and Abdullah Maute in a clash on June 9 that also left 13 Marine troops dead.
“The slain Maute (identified by other sources as Mohammad Khayyam) was not a Dawla member, but he took up arms and fought the Marine contingent because he was profusely desperate about the earlier arrest of their mother and father. He was blaming Omar and Abdullah before committing the suicidal fight,” the sources said.
The sources also gave credence to the military’s claims that there was infighting among Dawla leaders “internal issues” as exemplified by cases of hard-core militants allegedly gunning down followers who try to flee.
Those who are attempting to flee, the source said, are among more than 50 young residents forcibly taken and armed by the militants to join them in the siege that began on May 23.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana likewise revealed that as far as the military is concerned, the militants are already desperate and are ready to fight to the death despite repeated calls or appeals from the government for them to lay down their firearms, released their hostages, and surrender.
“Ito kasing Maute parang ang nakikita namin dito, eh they are going to fight to the death na, eh (The way we look at it, the Maute Group is going to fight to the death),” Lorenzana said.
The Dawlah Islamiyah, according to the source, evolved from a group named “Ghuraba” that militant brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute originally formed after mustering about 30 members indoctrinated under the Kilaffah Islamic Movement (KIM). KIM is a radical group operating covertly in the country before the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came to existence, the sources privy to religious extremism in Lanao region said.
As the militants try to move out of Marawi, they are using water route to bring in ammunition and evacuate wounded fighters to help them withstand a five-week military offensive, the military said Tuesday.
The extremists fighting under the black banner of the Islamic State (IS) group have remained holed up in pockets of Marawi, weathering daily air and artillery bombardment and deadly urban street battles.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said the route was discovered following the arrest of a man who used a boat to smuggle ammunition into the battle zone and ferry wounded militants out.
The military was able to cut off the “logistical and medical highway” across Lake Lanao, he said, adding that boat patrols on the lake have been bolstered.
“We found out that this man… is the one facilitating the entry of ammunition. He is also the person bringing wounded fighters from the main battle area toward the south of Lanao Lake,” Herrera told reporters.
“This is good news because we have now blocked this highway.”
Nearly 400 people have been killed, including 290 militants and 70 troops, according to official figures. Most of Marawi’s 200,000 residents have fled and much of the city is in ruins.
BULLETS IN RELIEF GOODS
Meanwhile, the Eastern Police District (EPD) is now tracking down the suspect who allegedly smuggled 159 rounds of 9mm bullets through relief packages intended for victims affected by the ongoing fighting in Marawi City.
Chief Supt. Romeo Sapitula, EPD director, identified the suspected ammunition smuggler as a certain “AJ.” He was tagged by Mohaimen Mutalib, a resident of Reliance St., Barangay Highway Hills, Mandaluyong, as the person who tried to place the above-mentioned ammunition into the relief packages which the former organized to help Marawi City residents. Mutalib is a native of Marawi City, hence his decision to organize his own relief drive.
Sapitula said Mutalib found the 9mm bullets inside a plastic box containing some clothes while checking the donations, prompting the latter to report the matter to the police.
Aside from the bullets, also found were a holster and some ammunition clips. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Francis T. Wakefield, and AFP)
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