By BONITA ERMAC
LUMBATAN, Lanao del Sur–Military authorities yesterday warned of a bigger threat being posed by the Maute group in Lanao del Sur even as a mayor revealed that the suspected terrorist organization has exploited children’s faith in order to win recruits and make them fight to the death for their cause.
Butig Mayor Ibrahim Macadato said the terrorist group has succeeded in convincing villagers, many of whom are underaged, to join and fight by promising them rewards in the afterlife.
“They were told they will go to heaven when they die,” said Macadato.
This, according to 103rd Brigade commander Col. Roseller Murillo, poses a more serious problem in the future because minors are gullible and could easily be convinced that they would be fighting for a higher cause.
At the main encampment of the Maute group in Barangay Poctan in Butig town, military officials raised a Philippine flag during a symbolic turnover of the place to the local government. The camp was raided by government troops on Sunday afternoon.
There, two fire-damaged houses belonging to Abdullah and Omar Maute yielded bomb ingredients, crude explosive devices, M16 rifles, documents, and headbands with markings associated with the Jihadist militant group Isis.
The military said the camp also has a fortified three-story building that was intended as the group’s first line of defense. It also has a fortified school building that was allegedly used in indoctrinating child warriors.
Maj. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos Jr., commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said the Maute group was behind at least 30 gruesome killings in Lanao del Sur before its fierce clashes with the military ensued last week.
“Their actions speak of basic terrorism. They have been monitored, and they are involved in nearly all the recent killings in Lanao del Sur, extortion activities and tower bombings here,” Barrientos said.
Murillo said the Lanao del Sur crisis was nearing its end with the siezure of the Maute group’s camp.
He said the Maute group’s force has been degraded but added that there was a possibility that the group would see reinforcement.
Macadato said five barangays of Butif were adversely affected by the clashes, and over 20 houses were razed to the ground as a result.
As of last count, the military said 63 suspected members of the terrorist group and five soldiers were killed while nine others were wounded in the recent fierce encounters in Lanao del Sur.