Connect with us

Special Feature

How terror was quashed



When the siege of Marawi City broke out on 23 May 2017, it confirmed President Rodrigo Duterte’s worst fears expressed months before — that the country was already under threat from the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Prior to that presidential pronouncement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remained in denial of the danger posed by ISIS.

But in a December 2016 speech, Duterte revealed a threat by the Maute Group — based in Butig, Lanao del Sur — that it was poised to burn down Marawi City.

The AFP admitted to receiving an intelligence report about the impending security challenge but claimed no validation.

President Duterte exhort the military in its fight against the Maute Group.

It turned out President Duterte was right.

In fact, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon was already identified as the emir or leader of the ISIS in Southeast Asia. The Marawi City siege was aimed at establishing an IS caliphate in southern Philippines.

Hapilon, on the wanted list by both the Philippines and US governments for various terrorist activities, then became the target of the law enforcement operation launched in the afternoon of 23 May 2017 in downtown Marawi City.

The US government offered $5 million for Hapilon’s head.

But the attempt to grab Hapilon sparked the IS-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups to start their well-planned and deliberate occupation of key installations in the most important Islamic City in the south.

Soldiers raise the Philippine flag as they retake terrorist-controlled areas.

It was believed that Hapilon, Abu Dar and the dreaded Maute brothers — Omarkhayam, Abdullah, Madie and Otto — were supposed to launch the siege on 27 May, the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Immediately after Hapilon’s arrest failed, terrorists, including foreigners, waved the Black Flag of the ISIS in taking over a hospital, kidnapping dozens of Christians, looting households and business establishments and killing non-Muslims.

Among those occupied by the terrorists were the Amai Pakpak Hospital, Marawi City Police Station, Marawi City Jail, Malabang District Jail where they freed hundreds of inmates, some of whom even joined the ragtag group, and the Cathedral of the Lady of Help where a priest and several parishioners were held as hostages.

The terrorists also initially took over the city hall and some parts of the Mindanao State University campus. They also attacked Camp Ranao, the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade.

In a decisive move, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and cut short his official visit to Russia to address the matter. The following day, the Commander-in-Chief arrived in Manila.

Residents prepare to evacuate Marawi City.

But the Daesh-inspired terrorists came prepared, with stocks of ammunition and high-powered firearms, including sophisticated sniper rifles and cash to attract fighters. The war dragged on for months.

This prompted the AFP to unleash the best foot soldiers and all its modern and sophisticated air and naval assets, particularly the FA50 lead-in fighter jets for air strikes. Tanks equipped with thermal imaging were also deployed.

The President declared Marawi City liberated from the hands of the Daesh on 23 October 2017, exactly five months after the war started.

The siege ended with the killing of 822 terrorists, led by Hapilon and the dreaded four Maute brothers, 165 government troops and 47 civilians. A total of 1,465 soldiers were also wounded.

In full battle gear.

The bodies of Hapilon and Omar were recovered.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugee’s report, a total of 72,897 families composed of 349,989 individuals were displaced due to the Marawi siege. Some remain homeless and are living in temporary shelters put up by the government.

Currently, rehabilitation of the war-torn Marawi City is ongoing, slowed down only by the careful clearing operation by the military of unexploded explosives planted by the terrorists.