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Monday 23 September 2019

Islamic State funded five-month siege in Philippines, says military chief

General Eduardo Ano talks to reporters in Pampanga province, north of Manila (AP)
General Eduardo Ano talks to reporters in Pampanga province, north of Manila (AP)

The Islamic State group sent at least £1.1 million to finance the siege of the Philippine city of Marawi, with assault leaders using the 2014 IS seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul as a blueprint, the Philippine military chief has said.

General Eduardo Ano oversaw the military campaign that ended the five-month siege in Marawi this week.

The defeats of IS in Syria and Iraq, and now IS-aligned gunmen in Marawi, show a major vulnerability of the extremists. Their territorial occupations tend to crumble over time as they are cornered in urban settings by the relentless firepower of US-backed offensives,

The counter-terrorism victories have given governments confidence that IS - which shocked the world with its rise a few years ago - can be defeated, said Gen Ano, who added: "They underestimated the reaction of the different countries in the world, the alliances.

"With what happened in Mosul, the Philippines and Raqqa, the different countries are now confident that if ever an Isis siege would erupt ... they now have the recipe or the formula to fight it."

He said the Philippine military is ready to share its battle experiences in mosque-studded Marawi.

The siege, which was launched on May 23, left more than 1,100 combatants and civilians dead, including more than 900 militants, and displaced 400,000 residents, including the entire population of Marawi, a bastion of the Islamic faith in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

Military air strikes, artillery and heavy machine-gun fire turned the lakeside city's central business district and outlying communities into a smouldering wasteland of disfigured buildings and bullet-pocked mosques and houses.

It was one of the most devastating urban fights the country has witnessed since the Second World War, the military chief said.

Like in Mosul, the militants plotted to launch the Marawi siege on the first day of Ramadan, the holy Muslim month of fasting, but they were forced to attack prematurely after Philippine army troops raided the hideout of its leaders.

They also took hundreds of hostages as human shields and employed snipers to slow the advance of the military, Gen Ano said.

"Every day, they watched videos of Isis in Mosul," he Ano said of the Marawi siege leaders, including Isnilon Hapilon, a major Asian terror suspect who was killed by Filipino troops last week.

"That was their blueprint, that was their pattern," he said, adding that troops recovered IS video discs of the Mosul violence in captured militant positions in Marawi.

It took about three weeks for thousands of government forces, who have been battling insurgents in jungle settings, to adapt to the urban fighting, Gen Ano said.

The massive offensive led to the killings of at least 10 key terror suspects from different extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to IS, including Hapilon, four siblings belonging to the local Maute clan, and Indonesian and Malaysian militants, he said.

It would have taken five to 10 years for troops to hunt down and find all those militant leaders in the jungles of the south, where Gen Ano said the extremists had mastery of the terrain and support from local clans.


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