IS terrorists guarding $37.6 million loot in Marawi

Filipino troops are battling Islamic State (IS)-linked terrorists in Marawi City for a month now.
PHOTO: AFP

MANILA: Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists holed up in Marawi are guarding around P1.4bil (S$37.6 million) in cash and jewelry looted from the city, a government official said on Friday.

The official, who asked not to be identified because he was not allowed to speak on the matter, said government security forces learned that the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the city were guarding 70 bags of loot, each worth around P20 million.

“They’re not leaving because they have 70 bags from looting [and the loot] is about P20 million per bag,” the official said.

“We have a video of that,” he added.

Hostages forced to loot

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Marawi, said earlier this month that the terrorists had forced hostages to convert to Islam, take up arms against government forces, serve as sex slaves and loot millions of pesos in cash, firearms, ammunition, gold and jewelry from houses and business establishments in Marawi.

Herrera said at least 10 hostages who had escaped separately from their captors disclosed the looting the terrorists forced them to undertake.

“They believe that the amount of cash and valuable items looted could be worth more [than P500 million], as there were several other groups being forced by terrorists to loot and steal for them,” he said.

The stolen items were stored in a mosque, “received by designated Maute members who were keeping a list for accounting,” he added.

The terrorists, who stormed Marawi on May 23 to establish an enclave for the Middle East-based IS jihadist group in Southeast Asia, are believed to be holding around 100 hostages, including a Catholic priest.

Fear, confusion in Marawi city

  • Four hungry chickens clawed at rubbish in a deserted street that smelt of corpses as military helicopters skimmed the rooftops firing rockets while the Philippines' most beautiful Muslim city burned. 
  • Marawi, a lakeshore city of minarets that is the centre of culture for the mainly Catholic Philippines' Muslim minority, is nearly empty after gunmen wielding black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group went on a rampage last week. 
  • Despite a relentless military campaign, an unknown number of gunmen remain held up in pockets of the city and holding hostages, while up to 2,000 residents are trapped. 
  • "These guys know how to fight. It looks like they have had some training," Marawi city police chief Parson Asadil told AFP on Monday in grudging acknowledgement as he manned a checkpoint. 
  • At least one of his men had been killed and five are missing, he said. 
  • The official death toll is 19 civilians, 17 soldiers, three police and 65 militants.  It is almost certain to rise. 
  • A police commando told reporters in Marawi he suspected the still off-limits public market was full of dead bodies. 
  • Those trapped are in danger of being hit by rockets or getting caught in the crossfire of the battles, while a lack of electricity, water, food and medical care could be just as deadly, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. 
  • "Sick people have already died because they couldn't get out. There are elderly in there." 
  • The military campaign involves dangerous house-to-house combat with the gunmen using sniper fire to deadly effect from key structures and buildings. 
  • At multiple military and police checkpoints outside of the city there were long lines while security forces cross-checked residents' faces against the mug shots of known terror suspects printed on large posters. 
  • Helicopters also fly regularly over the areas being held by the militants and fire rockets, even with civilians known to be in nearby buildings. 
  • At a key city crossing, where local police chief Asadil's unit took shelter from the sun on the side of buildings while manning a checkpoint on Monday, the streets were empty except for the four scrawny chickens. 
  • Shops nearby were boarded up, with glass facades riddled with bullet holes. A truck with a smashed windshield and blown-out tyres blocked the road a block away. 
  • Before the fighting, Marawi had a population of 200,000 people, more than 90 per cent of whom were Muslim. 
  • Since the fighting began neighbouring towns and cities have been swamped with fleeing Marawi residents, some having walked two days from mountain villages to skirt the fighting. 
  • At multiple military and police checkpoints outside of the city there were long lines while security forces cross-checked residents' faces against the mug shots of known terror suspects printed on large posters. 
  • "This would not have happened to us if the gunmen had not come to our village." 
  • Another Muslim resident expressed bewilderment at the reported goals of the gunmen: imposing a brutal form of rule such as that seen by IS in Iraq and Syria, with anyone not sharing their ideology regarded as the enemy.
  • "They are supposed to be part of our tribe, they are supposed to be our kin, but even we don't understand what their cause is," the man said. 

Government forces have pushed the terrorists into a box in the city center, where the gunmen have split into small groups and holed up in houses and high-rise buildings, the military said.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said on Friday that the military expected to retake Marawi “in a few more days.”

He said there were around 70 remaining terrorists who controlled around 600 houses and buildings concentrated in three villages in the city center.

Esperon said the military, which had around 7,000 soldiers in the battle zone, was recapturing 40 to 50 houses and buildings a day.

“I would say the area is now constricted to three barangays, it’s about 49 hectares. We used to have the main battle area in 12 barangays. But now, it’s in only three barangays,” Esperon said.

“But this is where we have the built-up area, the center of the poblacion of Marawi. And so, we expect a slower advance. But nonetheless, our troops are determined and they have learned so much from the past experiences,” he added.

Esperon said the terrorists who attacked the city originally numbered more than 660, including 20 foreign fighters.

“Of course, that number has been reduced. We would admit some have escaped. We are not certain of the 70 remaining but that is the estimate of our snipers,” he said.

 

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