MANILA, Philippines — Amin Baco, a Malaysian who also goes by the alias “Abu Jihad,” could well be the new “emir” of ISIS in Southeast Asia following the death of Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf commander who led the extremist gunmen who occupied Marawi City and battled government forces for five months.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said they are also trying to confirm if Amin, one of the longest-staying terror suspects in the country, managed to flee the war-torn city as disclosed by Muhammad Siyaputra, the Indonesian captured last week as he tried to escape Marawi.
Former Malaysian university lecturer Mahmud Ahmad, who is said to have helped fund and command the attack on Marawi, is also believed to have been among 40 or so terrorists killed in the last major military assault on the holdouts.
Although the government has said the deaths of Hapilon and Omar Maute, another leader of the Marawi occupation, signaled the end of the crisis, there have been intermittent reports of stragglers being killed or, like Siyaputra, being captured.
“Hindi natin sigurado (We aren’t certain), we have reports si (that) Amin Baco is the new emir na pumalit kay Isnilon, nakalabas na … pero kino-confirm pa (has left … but this is still being confirmed),” Mendez said, ading that Amin had been elected to succeed Hapilon.
Siyaputra, who was captured November 1, earlier told authorities he arrived in the country a year ago and had been involved in the first ISIS-attributed attack in Indonesia, on a commercial district of Jakarta in January last year.
He also admitted being with Amin during an attack on an Army detachment in Piagapo town in Lanao del Sur.
Acccounts of Amin’s possible escape from Marawi were first reported by Malaysian media, which said he found the opportunity to slip away after sending surrender feelers. The Malaysian reports said Baco, 34, had been holed out with some 30 fighters in a mosque in Sabala Manao village surounded by government troops.
The intelligence community established Amin’s presence in the country as early as 2014, when he was confirmed to be in Sulu with the Abu Sayyaf. Described as a former operative of the Darul Islam Sabah, an offshoot of the Indonesian networks Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah, Amin is believed to have been involvd in several bombings in Mindanao.
He is said to have facilitated the tarffic of terrorists and firearms between Indonesia and the southern Philippines through his native Sabah.
Amin also worked with fellow Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and was in the vicinity of th village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao when Marwan was killed in a commando raid on January 25, 2015 that was followed by clashes in which 44 Special Action Force personel died, Director General Fernando Mendez Jr., Philippine National Police operations chief, said.
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