World

Top Malaysian terrorist 'helped plot Marawi'

University lecturer-turned-militant highly respected by ISIS forces in Mindanao

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's most wanted terrorist, Mahmud Ahmad, was among key militant leaders involved in plotting the deadly offensive on Marawi City, a New Straits Times (NST) report said, citing foreign intelligence sources.

The university lecturer-turned-militant, who is highly regarded by fighters battling government security forces in the southern Philippines, had assumed a leadership role among militants in the region with links to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the sources.

A video clip being circulated shows Mahmud sitting with a group that includes brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute. The brothers led hundreds of Muslim insurgents in the attack on Marawi on May 23 after government forces botched a raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, head of ISIS' South-east Asia wing.

In the video, Hapilon, who has a US$5 million (S$6.9 million) bounty on his head, is shown listening intently as Abdullah briefs the group.

Hapilon does not appear to be injured, as has been suggested in recent media reports.

Sitting across from Hapilon is Mahmud, a former Universiti Malaya (UM) lecturer responsible for recruiting Malaysians to become ISIS members.

Media reports have suggested that he could succeed Hapilon if anything happens to the latter.

UNDER THE RADAR

While Hapilon is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list, Mahmud has largely managed to stay under the radar.

In the video, Abdullah mainly addresses Mahmud in Maranao, a local dialect.

Mahmud also appears more chiselled than in mugshots released by police after he escaped a dragnet to join the Abu Sayyaf group, NST reported yesterday.

He interjects several times with questions on plans to attack Mindanao State University in Marawi City.

Another target was Butig, a former training base for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philippines' largest Muslim secessionist group.

"Among the group led by Hapilon, Mahmud is a well-respected leader," one of the intelligence sources told NST. "His military training experience at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, aside from the fact that he has a strong Islamic background, including as a lecturer, has earned him respect from militants in the area."

Aside from Mahmud, at least four other Malaysians are known to have become fighters in the Philippines, NST said.

One of them was Mohd Najib Husen, who ran a stationery shop in UM and later became Mahmud's right-hand man. - THE STRAITS TIMES

terrorismmalaysiaPhilippines