MANILA, Oct 20- Islamic State (IS) militants’ hopes of establishing a base in South-East Asia have been dashed with the death of Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad, the last of its key leaders in the region.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s website yesterday as saying that Dr Mahmud was killed in Marawi City in southern Philippines.
He was the last top IS leader operating in the region with an eye to set up a caliphate here, after the militant group lost ground in Iraq and Syria.
With both IS “Emir” Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute killed earlier this week and now Dr Mahmud’s death, IS seems to have lost the ability to launch any sustained or major attacks that will help it establish a base in the region.
“They are weakened. They have some leaders now but these don’t have the calibre to carry out a major offensive, at least for a while,” an intelligence source said yesterday after disclosing that Dr Mahmud was killed near where Isnilon and Omar died.
However, the source declined to reveal details.
The source added that the remaining 25 to 30 IS militants, including three other Malaysians, are holding on to some hostages and trying to find an escape route with the Philippine military closing in on them.
The source, who did not provide details of the remaining Malaysians, said it might take a year or more for the extremists to regroup, although they might launch smaller attacks in the interim.
Manila-based political and security analyst Francisco Ashley Acedillo said Dr Mahmud’s death would stop the flow of funding for IS and the Maute group.
“But this is temporary because there are other people funding militant groups in the Philippines, such as the Jolo faction of the Abu Sayyaf and a group in Saranggani,” he said.
Dr Mahmud was reputed to be the planner and financial coordinator for IS in the region and was close to Isnilon for the past few years.
Following Isnilon’s death, it was widely believed in intelligence circles that Dr Mahmud would take over as the next emir, although some said it would be difficult because he was not a Filipino.
They believed that he would remain a key coordinator, money man and recruiter for IS in South-East Asia, although funding was becoming tighter as the group’s leadership in Iraq and Syria was also diminishing.
Dr Mahmud and Isnilon joined the Maute brothers in the Marawi City siege from May 23. Nearly 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting there which has seen dozens of militants killed, including two other Malaysians.
Two rescued hostages told security forces that Dr Mahmud was dead because he was with Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters, along with 20 to 25 hostages, in the part of Marawi City where the fighting was concentrated.
Early yesterday, Maj Gen Restituto Padilla of the Philippine military said a top Malaysian militant was among 13 IS-linked fighters killed overnight in clashes in Marawi.