Wed, Jun 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Philippine troops find cash stash left by militants

Reuters, MARAWI CITY, Philippines

Soldiers yesterday arrange money reportedly recovered from a gunner’s post in Marawi City, Philippines.

Photo: EPA

Philippine troops found bundles of banknotes and checks worth about US$1.6 million abandoned by Muslim militants holed up in Marawi City, a discovery the military said yesterday was evidence that the fighters were pulling back.

Fighters linked to the Islamic State group have been cornered in a built-up sliver of the southern lakeside town after two weeks of intense combat.

The military said that over the past 24 hours it had taken several buildings that had been defended by snipers.

In one house they found a vault loaded with neat stacks of money worth 52.2 million pesos (US$1.06 million) and checks made out for cash worth 27 million pesos.

“The recovery of those millions of cash indicates that they are running because the government troops are pressing in and focusing on destroying them,” Marines Operations Officer Rowan Rimas told a news conference in the town as helicopters on machinegun runs buzzed overhead.

Black smoke poured from an area near one of the town’s mosques and the lake after bombings by OV-10 attack aircraft and artillery fire from the ground.

The battle for Marawi has raised concerns that the Islamic State group is building a regional base on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

Officials said that, among the several hundred militants who seized the town on May 23, there were about 40 foreigners from Indonesia and Malaysia as well as India, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Chechnya.

The fighters prepared for a long siege, stockpiling arms and food in tunnels, basements, mosques and madrasah, or Islamic religious schools, military officials say.

Progress in the campaign has been slow because hundreds of civilians are still trapped or being held hostage in the urban heart of the town, officials have said.

“In a few days, we will we will be able to get everything, we will be able to clear the entire Marawi City,” Philippine armed forces Chief of Staff General Eduaro Ano said in a radio interview.

Ano said an estimated 100 Maute militants were holding out, and the military was checking on a report that one of its founding leaders, Omar Maute, had been killed in an air strike.

Duterte has said the Marawi fighters were financed by drug lords in Mindanao.

Jo-Ar Herrera, a military spokesman, said the discovery of the stash of banknotes and checks was evidence that the militants had links to international terrorist groups. However, he said an investigation was needed to establish the facts.

It is possible that the money came from a bank that was raided on the first day of the siege.

Herrera said last week that a branch of Landbank had been attacked and he had heard that one of its vaults was opened.

A four-hour ceasefire on Sunday to evacuate residents trapped in the town was interrupted by gunfire, leaving some 500 to 600 inside with dwindling supplies of food and water

The latest numbers for militants killed in the battle is 120, along with 39 security personnel. The authorities have put the civilian death toll at between 20 and 38.

Asked to describe the fighting skills and training of the militants in the town, 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.

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