Philippines hunts for possible new Daesh leader in Southeast Asia

Ellie Aben & Baker Atyani MANILA/DUBAI: Malaysian militant Mohammad Amin Baco has replaced Isnilon Hapilon as the new Daesh emir in Southeast Asia, according to the Philippines top police official.

“We are still looking for Amin Baco,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, describing the Malaysian as the likely new “successor as the emir of those terrorists.”

Police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa said he received similar information that Baco had assumed the role of Daesh’s point man.

Ronald Dela Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said that information came from a captured Indonesian militant, Muhammad Ilham Syahputra.

Baco, Rosa said, is not only the leader of the handful of Maute fighters remaining in Marawi, the Phillipines’ only Islamic city, where government forces and militants have been fighting since May, but “in the whole of Southeast Asia.”

Rosa said Baco has “assumed the position of emir of (Daesh in) Southeast Asia.”

The PNP chief admitted that Syahputra’s information had not yet been validated.

Baco comes from the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and is married to the daughter of Hajjan Sawadjan, one of the leaders of the Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf.

Baco is himself a former member of the Sabah arm of Indonesian Islamic group Darul Islam.

Rosa made his claims as government troops continue to conduct clearing operations in Marawi. Twelve more Maute stragglers were reportedly killed over the weekend, including Ibrahim Maute, the cousin of the slain leaders of the terror group, Omar and Abdullah.

Hapilon — the previous “emir” — was killed along with Omar Maute on Oct. 16, as government troops made their final push to liberate Marawi from the Daesh-backed militants who had held parts of the city for five months.

Further investigation into Baco, however, cast doubt on Syahputra’s claim, and revealed that various armed forces and intelligence agencies are uncertain as to Baco’s whereabouts or his standing within either the Maute group or Daesh in Southeast Asia.

“We heard the news that he could be Isnilon’s successor as the emir, but since they have already dispersed, we are still pursuing him,” Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of the DND’s 78th anniversary celebration at Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Lorenzana pointed out that even if Baco is now the recognized leader, he no longer has the numbers on the ground to pose any real threat to Marawi.

“They can no longer hold the ground and sustain the fight,” he said. Although he added that the militants are still dangerous: “They fire and run away. Shoot and run. Sometimes they leave behind some explosives that cause injuries to our troops.”

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Western Mindanao, said he believes Baco is already dead.

“He (was monitored) inside the main battle area and yesterday the camp commanders reported body counts where they (Baco and other Maute stragglers) are hiding,” he said. “We believe, hopefully, that one of them is Baco.”

Galvez added that if Baco has been neutralized, then Abu Sayyaf’s link to Daesh has been broken.

AFP spokesman Maj. Gen, Restituto Padilla echoed Lorenzana’s claim that the Maute group could no longer seriously threaten the security of Marawi.

He also said that “contrary to pronouncements by some officials,” the AFP believes that, rather than Baco becoming the new emir, “the group is now leaderless and without direction.”

“Amin Baco is believed to have been among those killed in Marawi recently. Baco’s remains are now the subject of an ongoing search,” Padilla added.

Malaysian authorities, however, claim Baco escaped Marawi having offered to surrender last week.

“Amin Baco probably breached the military cordon in Marawi after offering to surrender his group,” an intelligence source in Kuala Lumpur told Arab News.

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