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LOOK: Utak sa Likod ng Maute-ISIS, ASG Sa Marawi Bistado Na

The men behind the Marawi siege

Of all the militants involved in the Marawi siege that is now entering nearly two months, Malaysian Dr Mahmud Ahmad, 39, is the least known outside of his own country.

But Dr Mahmud is someone regional security officials view as among the most dangerous - the brains behind the Maute and Islamic State (IS) faction of the Abu Sayyaf group fighting in Marawi.

Dr Mahmud was a lecturer at the Islamic studies department at the University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, according to a senior intelligence source.

In the 1990s, he went to study at the International Islamic University of Islamabad in Pakistan where he joined Al-Qaeda. During his semester break, he crossed into Afghanistan to undergo paramilitary training.

“When he returned home, he was already radicalised but nobody knew about it. He became a lecturer and quietly went about his life for many years,” a senior Malaysian intelligence source told Channel NewsAsia.

“He was in fact a sleeper cell. He was waiting for his time. This is a trademark of Al-Qaeda, their members don’t exhibit their activities and thoughts for many years, unlike IS."

A quiet man, he is known to be intelligent and charismatic, commanding the respect of many, including Abu Sayyaf’s chief Isnilon Hapilon and his men.

“He is very charismatic and intelligent," said the source. "When he speaks, he commands people’s attention because of his religious knowledge, experience and commitment. As such, he can easily recruit people.

“He has very good networks throughout the region. I believe he can unite all the different (militant) elements in the Southeast Asia region and beyond. This is what makes him dangerous."

Dr Mahmud is known to have recruited and arranged for the passage of Malaysians to Syria to join IS, including the country’s first suicide bomber.

“One of them is Malaysia’s first suicide bomber, Ahmad Tarmimi Maliki,” said the source.

Tarmimi, 26, was a factory worker who joined IS in Syria. He was later sent to Iraq where he drove an SUV laden with bombs into Iraq’s SWAT team headquarters in Anbar province in March 2014, killing himself and 25 soldiers.

In April 2014, Dr Mahmud got word that the police were after him and he fled from Malaysia to southern Philippines along with two other associates.

During a counter-terrorism operation, police discovered that Dr Mahmud had founded a new cell in 2014 known as the Arakan Daulah Islamiyah (ADL).

“When we first discovered Arakan Daulah Islamiyah, we were puzzled as Arakan is the name of the Myanmar state where Rohingyas come from,” said the source.

“We later discovered ADL had links with Rohingyas and many others throughout the region, and were planning to link up with the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines,” said the source.

“ADL also arranged for its members to go for para-military training in southern Philippines before making their way to Syria,” the source added.

Dr Mahmud is currently believed to be the right hand man of Abu Sayaf’s leader, Isnilon Hapilon and he is in Marawi city.

“He is there as a fighter to fight against the Filipino military,” the source said.

The former university lecturer has far bigger ambitions than just recruiting people to go to Syria and fighting in Marawi, according to sources.

He plans to set up an IS territory in Southeast Asia in southern Philippines together with the Abu Sayyaf group’s leader Isnilon Hapilon.

“But that will be very difficult to do, to set up and hold on to a territory. But this fighting in Marawi will inspire IS supporters in Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in the region to go to the city. They will see Marawi as the new jihad zone,” said the source.

Read full: CNA

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