The fighting in Marawi may have lasted longer than previous clashes in Mindanao because it was supported by foreign jihadists who brought in funding, arms and ammunition, and actual combatants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
It has now lasted nearly five months, a rebellion openly endorsed by the Islamic State (IS) which called on combatants who could not make it to the fighting in Iraq to go to the Philippines instead. IS wanted to set up a regional center for Southeast Asia and named Basilan natïve Isnilon Hapilon as “emir” of the “Philippine province.”
The Islamic State – known variously as ISIL (Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant), as ISIS (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria, and as Daesh, an acronym for the organization’s Arabic name – once nursed ambitions of becoming a world caliphate. It succeeded in taking over wide areas in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, when these two countries were beset by internal troubles. It attracted to its ranks thousands of young Islamic extremists from around the world, including many European countries and the United States.
And it became notorious for its practice of beheading its captives, among them newsmen it had captured in the field in Iraq. In the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf took to copying this barbarous practice, using it to terrorize foreign governments and families of its kidnap victims into paying huge amounts in ransom.
The Islamic State, however, has steadily lost battles against Syrian and Iraqi government forces supported by troops of various nations, including the US and Russia. It steadily lost cities it had earlier conquered, among them the ancient city of Mosul in northern Iraq.
Last Monday, a report from Dhuluiyah, Iraq, told of bodies of jihadists lying in mass graves or at the mercy of wild dogs. These were recruits from all over the world, drawn by the promise of a garden of delights should they die as martyrs in battle.
There are still eight or nine foreigners among the Maute remnants fighting in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported last week “They are the ones who are suicidal,” said Gen. Eduardo Año, AFP chief of staff.
The fighting in Marawi began on May 23 when troopers sought to arrest Hapilon who managed to elude arrest and went on to lead the rebellion along with the Maute brothers. Abdullah Maute was reported killed in August but no body was ever found. Hapilon was finally killed last Monday, October 16, along with Omarkhayam Maute.
With troops closing in from all sides, the deadline which was set by the military commanders themselves led by General Año – the end of this month — may finally be met.