KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad is set to become the top man in the Islamic State (IS) terror faction in Marawi in the southern Philippines following the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
Intelligence sources revealed that the former Universiti Malaya lecturer is highly respected among the militants of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an affiliate of IS, and is second only to their leader Isnilon.
Dr Mahmud, with his weapons expertise and vast knowledge of IS' brand of false jihad, gained the respect and recognition of the ASG after fleeing to the southern Philippines in 2014.
"You could say he is a sort of decorated veteran among the IS and ASG ranks," a source said.
According to another source, Dr Mahmud managed to unite ASG, the Maute Group led by Khayyam Romato, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Ansarul Khilafah Phillipines under the IS banner.
"It is very alarming that this one individual is the glue tying these different factions together," the source said.
Dr Mahmud, also known as Abu Handzalah, has always harboured aspirations of leading his own IS terror cell in the southern Philippines with the ultimate goal of forming an official South-East Asian IS faction.
Aside from his militant experience, Dr Mahmud is also the money man for the terror group.
It is learnt that since 2014, the former Universiti Malaya lecturer has received more than RM500,000 (S$160,290) in donations from IS militants and sympathisers.
Intelligence sources said the funds were channelled to him through couriers and dead drops.
Intelligence sources said Dr Mahmud also has a contingency plan in case Philippine forces close in on his position in Marawi.
"He would not want to be captured.
"Authorities believe he has strapped on a suicide vest and will not hesitate to detonate it if he is captured," one source said.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said he had received news of the deaths of the top two IS leaders, Isnilon and Maute, in the southern Philippines.
"If the deaths are indeed true, then it does point to Dr Mahmud being the next leader.
"We have always monitored the situation (in the southern Philippines) and we will not let our guard down," he said.
Mohamad Fuzi added that security forces nationwide, especially in Sabah, have always been on the alert for any threat posed by militant groups.
"We are working round the clock to ensure the safety and security of the country.
"We must remain vigilant," he said.
It was reported that Isnilon and Omar were killed by Philippine security forces yesterday.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed the deaths and added that Dr Mahmud is believed to be still alive.
Dr Mahmud was among the key planners of the Marawi attack, together with Isnilon and Omar, for the intended creation of a caliphate in South-East Asia.
The conflict between Philippine government forces and armed groups started on May 23 when authorities tried to arrest Isnilon.
In recent weeks, Philippine forces announced that the siege of Marawi is almost over.
In April 2014, Dr Mahmud, along with ex-Selayang Municipal Council officer Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee @ Abu Nur and former Universiti Malaya bookshop keeper Mohd Najib Husen alias Abu Anaz, flew to Mindanao to arrange for military training and bomb-making for Malaysian militants who would later be sent to Syria to join IS.
Dr Mahmud is the only surviving member of the trio following the deaths of Joraimee and Najib.