TWO wanted Malaysians fighting alongside the Islamic State in southern Philippines have appeared in the terror group’s latest propaganda video that calls on Muslims in the region to join them.
Looking very different from images of them in open sources, former Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad and former Selayang Municipal Council officer Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee are believed to still be active in the battle for Marawi.
The video, titled “Inside 3”, released by the group’s official media, al-Hayat, on Monday, also showed the so-called emir of the IS forces in the Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, with fighters, supposedly during a break from fighting with the armed forces of the Philippines.
Philippine authorities have not been able to confirm if the man with a US$5 million bounty on his head is dead or alive. IS members in Mindanao, as reflected in their chat rooms, say he is still part of the group fighting the Philippine military.
“The emir of East Asia Wilayat, Abu Abdilah, in action,” one of them said. Abu Abdilah is another nom de guerre for Hapilon.
One part of the video showed Hapilon, in full battle gear, being embraced by his subordinates. It cannot be independently established if the man standing close by, and was also being greeted by the rank and file, was Mahmud.
Intelligence reports have placed Mahmud as the leader-in-waiting for the Syria and Iraq based-IS’s only outpost.
The signboards and gateway arch shown in the video, as well as the use of Tagalog, indicated that it was produced in Marawi.
Sources said it was Mahmud who made the opening remark in the 6.47-minute video.
He can be heard reciting a few lines from the surah Ali Imran verse 103, which calls on Muslims to “cling onto the rope of Allah and not split”.
However, the source said the man in the middle, who was seen as if he was the one doing the talking, was believed to be someone else.
The source said Mahmud used Bahasa Malaysia at the beginning of the video, as the group was targeting its supporters, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, to join them in Marawi.
Mahmud, the source said, was the one standing second from the left, holding an assault rifle.
He took pains to disguise himself and used a shemagh to hide his face, exposing only his eyes.
“The voice that can be heard during the opening of the video is Mahmud’s, although it appears that the man in the middle was the one speaking. We believe he was just the stand-in guy.
“Mahmud is the one who is standing second from the left. Beside him is Joraimee, who is of the same height as Mahmud,” the source said.
Mahmud, the source said, chose to remain unidentified in IS propaganda videos to give authorities a hard time.
Reports in recent months have both cited him as having been killed in action and alive, although he was reportedly badly injured in the early stages of the Marawi siege.
Joraimee was seen in the video standing on Mahmud’s left, holding a shotgun on his right hand and an over-sized keris, a trademark of his, according to sources.
“He is known for his interest in keris. This is not the first picture of him with that particular one,” the source added.
Mahmud and Joraimee were among five Malaysians who fled the country. They first joined the Abu Sayyaf group before the southern Philippine-based group pledged allegiance to the IS.
Other Malaysians who were with them were Mahmud’s close aide, Mohd Najib Husen, and Jeknal Adil, who have died in battle with the authorities.
Only the whereabouts of Mohd Amin Baco, a member of outlawed group Darul Islam Sabah, remain unknown.
Bukit Aman’s Special Branch Counter-terrorism Division principal assistant director Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said the police would need more time to confirm the identities of the Malaysians in the video.
This, he said, was to allow the police to match their faces to data in the facial recognition system.
Asked on the video, Ayob said the clip was made with the intention to motivate Muslims, especially those in Southeast Asia, to take up their cause.
“Even the background music that they use, in addition to the speeches by the IS fighters... they are all intended to influence IS sympathisers to join the fight in Marawi,” he said, adding that IS control of areas in Marawi had reduced significantly.
The narration of the video, released just as IS marked its third-month occupation of the Islamic city, started with a voice-over on the group’s “success in securing several areas in Marawi”.
“Today (yesterday) marks the third month of the group’s incursion of Marawi and the authorities have failed to recapture some of the areas controlled by the group.
“They are playing up this ‘psychological victory’ that they hope to inspire more to join them in their fight.
“They are now encouraged as they have control over these areas despite their strength likely made up only of pocket groups,” Ayob said.