SCUBA TERRORISTS: Reports from Marawi suggest would-be jihadis may be attempting to enter the besieged lakeside city using diving gear.
The military says it has received reports that known sympathisers of the Islamic State-linked militants have been trying to get their hands on masks and oxygen tanks.
Speaking at a press briefing today, Colonel Romeo Brawner said: “We received some reports that there were efforts to procure or produce scuba equipment by the Maute but so far we have not caught or seen cases of Maute coming into the battle area using this equipment.”
Lake a tough task for scuba terrorists
Zia Alonto Adiong, a local government spokesman, said the scuba terrorists would find it difficult to navigate Lake Lanao.
“There have been several attempts,” he said. “Even the National Geographic came over to get fish that are endemic to the lake.
“They weren’t able to go down deep enough.
“I don’t know how they can manage to sneak out using scuba equipment. There is a big difference when you do scuba diving on salt water compared to fresh water. I am not discounting the possibility, but it is quite hard.”
Col. Brawner’s unit is responsible for guarding the lake, and is composed of units from the navy, maritime police and army. He said they were working to prevent reinforcements “whether it is on the surface or subsurface”.
“We cannot be 100 per cent sure but as far as we know we have been able to prevent the entry of possible reinforcements and the entry of supplies.
“If you look at the operations for the past weeks, we have been able to prevent the entry of boats and neutralise some of the elements that attempted to come in.”
Ten reinforcements killed on boat
The threat of reinforcements entering the battle area is a big concern for the military. As we reported last month, troops intercepted two boats carrying armed men moving toward the battle area. Ten militants were killed in the clash.
Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has come to the aid of the military in recent weeks.
Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi, said the rebel group was also sharing intelligence with the military.
“They have been very successful in their previous operations and members of the MILF have died because of the recent clashes. It is a welcome development. They are helping us address the problem against terrorism,” she said.
Love or money draws support
The military believe that people trying to enter the battle area are either enticed by monetary rewards or by loyalty to the Maute clan.
Col. Brawner said: “Some are being paid for their boats so that they could bring in reinforcements through the lake. All these reports we received have been confirmed to be true.
“The Maute terrorist group is using monetary compensation to recruit people, and buy services as well as supplies.”
Of those trying to enter the battle zone out of loyalty, Capt. Petinglay said: “We have monitored that some of those who want to enter the battle area are relatives.
“Probably the relatives of the Maute members inside are asking for their help.”
The battle area is now confined to about 20 hectares and the military is aiming to end the battle “before October”.
Up to 145 government forces, at least 45 civilians and more than 600 terrorists have been killed in the chaos that has displaced up to 600,000 civilians.