Philippine troops have seized bundles of banknotes and cheques worth about $1.6 million abandoned by Islamist terrorists in Marawi City, it was announced today (Tuesday, June 6).
Militants fighting under the black flag of the so-called Islamic State have been cornered in the city after 15 days of deadly conflict.
The military said that over the past day it had taken several buildings that were previously occupied by snipers.
In one house they found a vault loaded with neat stacks of money worth 52.2 million pesos and cheques made out for cash worth 27 million pesos ($550,000).
Speaking at a news conference, Marine Major Rowan Rimas said: “The recovery of those millions of cash indicates that they are running because the government troops are pressing in and focusing on destroying them.”
The crisis in Marawi suggests that IS is eying the southern Philippines as a new stronghold as it continues to lose ground in the Middle East.
The army has reported that among the several hundred militants who seized the town on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.
The fighters had apparently prepared for a long siege, stockpiling arms and food.
According to a video seen by Associated Press, the militants had been planning to launch their attack on the city on May 26.
However, their plans we brought forward when their headquarters were raided by the armed forces three days before.
The operation was an attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, IS’s regional representative, or ‘emir’. Hapilon, who is also a commander of Abu Sayyaf and has a $5 FBI bounty on his head.
It is believed he was in the city to unite the various islamist groups of the Philippines under the black flag of IS.
The level of chaos that followed the raid suggests that he had made progress in this aim.
Progress to free the city has been slowed down due to the hundreds of civilians trapped amid the fighting, including up to 240 being held hostage.
Speaking in a radio interview, Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said: “In a few days, we will we will be able to get everything, we will be able to clear the entire Marawi City.”
Yesterday, President Duterte offered a bounty of 10 million pesos ($200,000) to anyone who “neutralised” Hapilon, and five million pesos for each of the two leaders of the Maute group, a family run terror operation based in the city.
He has also suggested that the terror groups are being funded by the illegal drug trade.
However, Army spokesman Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the cash and cheques could be evidence that the militants had links to international terrorist groups.
It is also possible that the money came from a branch of Landbank that raided on the first day of the siege.
The latest numbers for militants killed in the battle is 120, along with 39 soldiers and police. The civilian death toll is somewhere between 20 and 38.
Describing the fighting skills of the terrorists in the city, Major Rimas said: “They have snipers and their positions are well defended. Maybe they watch war movies a lot, or action pictures a lot so they borrowed some tactics from it.”