'Massive' failure of intelligence on ISIS in Marawi, says ex-police officer

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 30 2017 05:43 PM

But it's not solely the military's fault, says security expert Boogie Mendoza

MANILA - Members of the international terror group Islamic State (ISIS) were in Marawi City days before its affiliate, Maute group, hoisted its black flags in the southern city, a security analyst told ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC). 

There was definitely a "massive" failure of intelligence on the part of the government which led to this siege, said retired police officer Rodolfo 'Boogie' Mendoza, who is now the president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research.

"My view is the ISIS, according to [our] information, were already pre-positioned in the surrounding barangays in the exit of Marawi in the entrance four days before the attack," he told ANC's Talkback on Monday night. 

"That is our information, and they have stored their firearms and logistics provisions in tunnels they have constructed with the help of their relatives, with the help of their friends, contacts and allies...That alone will indicate failure of intelligence," he said.

Mendoza said the attack was launched for the terrorists to "occupy the city, conduct hostage operation, and project in a global dimension what an ISIS-Philippines is all about."

He is doubtful of the military's earlier pronouncement that the fighting with the Maute group was the result of an operation to capture alleged ISIS emir in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon.

"How can you detect the presence of Hapilon when you cannot detect the maximum number of ISIS fighters inside the city? That alone will measure the doubtful circumstances of that allegation," he said.

Asked about what could have prevented the Marawi clashes, which prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao, Mendoza believes it was not solely the military's fault.

"Terrorism is a man-made disaster. Every municipality, every city and province has the so-called integrated area community public safety plan. I believe this is not really functioning very well," he said.

"The failure of intelligence is a shared responsibility of the community, the civilians, the LGU [Local Government Unit], the Armed Forces, and the police. Why is it that there is a failure of intelligence? Because according to information, there are lots of sympathizers there, many sympathizers," he added.

THE ISIS-MAUTE CONNECTION

According to Mendoza, members of the Maute family were former loyalists of the late Hashim Salamat, former chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and were closely associated with Alim Abdulaziz Mimbantas, another MILF leader who is now dead. The Maute brothers--Omar and Abdullah--are cousins of the second wife of Mimbantas. 

The government signed a peace deal with the MILF in 2014.

Salamat supposedly promised Mimbantas that he would be his successor, but the MILF leadership ultimately went to current chairman Al Haj Murad. 

After this, the Maute brothers left to study abroad, only to return in 2009 and start contacting probable subordinates. They found allies in criminal gangs.

Together with Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, they established the Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM). Within this group was the al-Ghuraba (meaning 'the stranger' in English), the intelligence and training staff of the group.

However, the KIM was disbanded after Marwan was killed in a police raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015. 

Though there were efforts to unify the group, the KIM ultimately switched allegiance to ISIS. 

Mendoza explained, a "homegrown" jihadi organization such as the Maute group, becomes an ISIS-allied group if their pledge of allegiance is accepted and recognized by the Khalif.

"The so-called aspirational or inspirational period pertains to the propaganda awakening or internalization that there is a caliphate existing and they have to aspire to become a member," he said.

However, for an area to be declared, there are several prerequisites, according to Mendoza: 

- all jihadi factions must be unified; 
- there must be an emir who must be selected; 
- there must be a Shura council, the consultative council; 
- there must be a military council; and, 
- a battle plan must be submitted to central ISIS for approval.

Mendoza believes that the military, which has repeatedly denied the presence of ISIS in the country, may not have been consciously downplaying the terror threat, but did not have access to "deeper intelligence [information]."

MORE PLAYERS IN THE MARAWI ATTACK

Mendoza said, according to his group's information, the recent attack in Marawi have been approved by the top ISIS leaders.

The terrorists targeted Marawi City because symbolically, it is the only place categorized as an Islamic city all over the Philippines, and "has demonstrated deep Islamism system, even in the 90s."

Apart from the Muslim rebels, Mendoza said communist rebels also joined the in the "pre-attack period" in Marawi with their Moro Army Committee, made up of Muslims inducted as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

"The NPA Moro wing was actively involved in the preparing, during the pre-attack period. They were also involved in the training, providing them the urban guerrilla warfare," he claimed. 

On top of this, Mendoza said the government is fighting an integrated network of unified local jihadist organizations and foreign jihadist groups, helmed by Hapilon.

He said Hapilon had ordered the four local organizations to contribute 120 fighters each, bringing the expected force to around 480 members, but they were not able to meet this.

What they did instead was to recruit young people in the south, where economic and social progress had been slower compared to other cities in the Philippines.

Hapilon, who has a $5 million bounty placed by the US due to his involvement in the abduction of American citizens from a resort in 2001 and the beheading of one of them, is still in Marawi, according to the military. -- with a report from Reuters