MANILA – The government knew from intelligence reports on May 18 that the Maute Group had a plan to attack Marawi city and raise the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the provincial capitol.
Armed with such information which was later validated in a video – showing Isnilon Hapilon meeting with the Maute brothers – seized by government troops from a house in Marawi recently, State forces moved to serve a warrant of arrest on Hapilon after he was spotted in a house in Marawi on May 23.
That operation to get him prompted the Maute-led forces to “prematurely” set in motion the siege of Marawi on May 23, though the strength and stealth of the terrorists in that premature execution did not seem to indicate any lack of planning.
These were among the key details of the information known to government which became the core basis for the declaration of martial law, as laid out Monday before the Supreme Court by the Office of the Solicitor General.
The OSG, as instructed at the weekend by the SC, submitted Monday a consolidated comment on the seven petitions filed against the martial law declaration in Mindanao. The OSG consolidated comment was sought ahead of the oral arguments on the petitions set by the high tribunal from June 13 to 15.
“On 23 May 2017, Hapilon was seen at the safe house of the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups in Barangay Basak Malutlut, Marawi City.
“A joint military and police operation to serve a warrant of arrest and to capture Hapilon and the Maute Group operational leaders for kidnapping for ransom was initiated. The focused military operation started with an encounter at about 1:30 in the afternoon between government forces and ISIS-inspired local rebel group members. This was followed by a series of encounters throughout the day in different parts of Marawi City,” said a portion of the submission by Solicitor General Jose Calida, who also asked the court and the public to support President Rodrigo Duterte in defending the republic against terrorists.
Siege started 3 days earlier than planned
While the siege of Marawi started May 23, having been set in motion as a response to the government efforts to get Hapilon – dubbed the ISIS’ emir for Southeast Asia – the actual takeover was really set for May 26, according to government intelligence.
“The ISIS-inspired local rebel groups had intended to burn down the entire city of Marawi on the day of Ramadan, or on 26 May 2017. The said attack would have served as the precursor for other rebel groups to stage their own uprisings across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah in the region. However, the planned attack by the rebels was foiled when government troops attempted to serve the warrant on 23 May 2017. This forced the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups to prematurely execute their planned siege of Marawi,” added the OSG report to the SC.
The OSG acknowledged that the government was also shocked by the sheer strength of the extremists, despite their having been forced by circumstance to advance their occupation plan by three days.
“The rebel groups launched an overwhelming and unexpected offensive against government troops. Multitudes numbering about five hundred (500) armed men marched along the main streets of Marawi and swiftly occupied strategic positions throughout the city. Snipers positioned themselves atop buildings and began shooting at government troops. The ISIS-inspired local rebel groups were also equipped with rocket-propelled grenades (“RPG”) and ammunition for high-powered assault rifles,” said the OSG.
The ISIS-inspired local rebel groups occupied the Philhealth Office and Salam Hospital in Barangay Lilod. They burned three (3) buildings: the Marawi City Jail, Landbank Moncado Branch, and Senator Ninoy Aquino Foundation College. They also kidnapped and killed innocent civilians. In their rampage, the rebel groups brandished the black ISIS flag and hoisted it in the locations that they occupied.
Maute’s orders: bomb Marawi, Iligan, CDO
According to the OSG, intelligence reports received by the AFP had indicated that Abdullah Maute, one of the two Maute brothers with whom Hapilon had partnered his Abu Sayyaf units in order to carry out the ISIS mandate, had sent orders to his men as early as April 17, 2017. Maute told his men in Marawi, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities to undertake a campaign of bombings, carjackings and the killing of soldiers and policemen.
Last weekend, President Duterte and AFP chief of staff Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año said Hapilon was directed by ISIS Middle East head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to set up an IS base in the Philippines, as part of the terror group’s long-term goal of setting up a caliphate in Southeast Asia.
Owing to the military offensives “which involved a combination of ground assaults and airstrikes” in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur from April 22-25,2017, the rebels under Hapilon were prompted to move to Marawi City.
In early May 2017, military assets spotted Hapilon in Marawi City.
“Military forces spotted Hapilon in Marawi City sometime in early May 2017. Specifically, on 18 May 2017, intelligence reports revealed that the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups were planning to occupy Marawi City, and to raise the ISIS flag at the provincial capitol. This intelligence report was confirmed through a video recovered by government forces in the lairs of the Maute Group during the course of their military operation on 23 May 2017. The video shows the ASG and Maute Group leaders planning their attack of Marawi City.”