A top security official said that the two militants, one Filipino and the other Malaysian, who survived the crushing of a siege of a southern Philippine city last year are among the leading candidates to succeed a slain Islamic State group regional leader as the rebels attempt to recover from setbacks.
According to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Filipino Humam Abdul Najid and Malaysian Amin Baco are among several Muslim militant commanders in the south who could succeed Isnilon Hapilon, who led the devastating siege of Marawi city.
Troops killed Hapilon in a final battle in which they ended the five-month siege. Despite the military declared that Baco was killed, but Esperon said his body has not been found and reports indicate he is still alive and hiding somewhere in the south.
“He was not accounted for in Marawi but he was reported somewhere else,” Esperon said of Baco, who some believe was wounded at the height of the Marawi fighting but managed to flee to southern Sulu province, where he recovered and is in hiding in the jungle with Abu Sayyaf extremist gunmen.
Esperon said that Najid, who is also known by his nom de guerre Abu Dar, is among those who plotted the Marawi attack but escaped from the Islamic city, bringing with him money that the militants looted from houses and business establishments in communities they occupied for months.
“He was able to get out of Marawi and bring out some funds which we believe he can now use to recruit or to fund some operations so we’re looking at him closely,” said Esperon, a former military chief of staff who oversaw major battles against the militants.
Esperon also added that another possible person who could lead the Islamic State group branch in the region is Abu Sayyaf commander Yassir Igasan, a Libya-educated militant who has connections to Middle Eastern armed groups.
More than 1,100 people, mostly militants, were killed in the Marawi siege, which also forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to nearby towns. The United States and Australia deployed surveillance aircraft and drones to help Filipino troops battle the militants, who turned buildings and houses into combat and sniper posts.
According to Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert, in a security conference in Manila, many Islamic State group militants have moved back to Syria, while others have gone to other areas including the Chechen Republic, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Southeast Asia where they continue to pose a threat.
Countries should establish joint databases on the militants and cooperate in training anti-terrorism personnel to cope with the continuing threat, Gunaratna said.