The Maute brothers: Southeast Asia’s Islamist ‘time bomb’

A policeman stands on guard behind a window full of bullet holes as government soldiers assault the Maute group in Marawi City, Philippines

By Neil Jerome Morales and Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – On his Facebook profile page Omarkhayam Romato Maute describes himself as a “Walking Time-Bomb”.

When a band of militants led by Omarkhayam and one of his brothers over-ran a town in the southern Philippines on May 23, festooning its alleyways with the black banners of Islamic State, the Facebook description seemed appropriate.

Governments across Southeast Asia had been bracing for the time when Islamic State, on a back foot in Iraq and Syria, would look to establish a ‘caliphate’ in Southeast Asia and become a terrifying threat to the region.

“The Middle East seems a long way away but it is not. This is a problem which is amidst us,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Australian radio on Saturday as the battle to re-take Marawi neared the end of the third week, with a death toll of nearly 200. “It is a clear and present danger.”

Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute grew up with several other brothers and sisters in Marawi, a Muslim-majority town in a country where over 90 percent of the population is Christian.

Marawi is, historically, the center of Islam on Mindanao, a sprawling island where violent resistance to authority has been a tradition since the era of Spanish colonialism, spurred in recent decades by poverty and the neglect of successive governments.

As teenagers in the 1990s, the brothers seemed like ordinary young men, said a neighbor of the Maute family: they studied English and the Koran, and played basketball in the streets.

“We still wonder why they fell to the Islamic State,” said the neighbor, who was once an Islamist militant himself and surrendered to the government. “They are good people, religious. When someone gets to memorize the Koran, it’s unlikely for them to do wrong. But this is what happened to the brothers.”

In the early 2000s, Omarkhayam and Abdullah studied in Egypt and Jordan, respectively, where they became fluent in Arabic.

Omarkhayam went to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he met the daughter of a conservative Indonesian Islamic cleric. After they married, the couple returned to Indonesia. There, Omarkhayam taught at his father-in-law’s school, and in 2011 he settled back in Mindanao.

It may have been then, and not when he was in the Middle East, that Omarkhayam was radicalized.

In Cairo “none of his fellow students saw him as having any radical tendencies at all, and photographs show a young man enchanted by his baby daughters and playing with the growing family by the Red Sea,” Jakarta-based anti-terrorism expert Sidney Jones wrote in a 2016 report.

Little is known about Abdullah’s life after he went to Jordan, and it is not clear when he returned to Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province that includes Marawi.

Intelligence sources said there are seven brothers and one half-brother in the family, all but one of whom joined the battle for Marawi.

Men identified by Philippines Intelligence officers as Isnilon Hapilon (2nd L, yellow headscarf) and Abdullah Maute (2nd R, standing, long hair) are seen in this still image taken from video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on June 7, 2017.

Men identified by Philippines Intelligence officers as Isnilon Hapilon (2nd L, yellow headscarf) and Abdullah Maute (2nd R, standing, long hair) are seen in this still image taken from video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on June 7, 2017. Armed Forces of the Philippines/Handout via REUTERS TV


The Mautes were a monied family in a close-knit tribal society where respect, honor and the Koran are paramount.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said the ‘Maranao’ clan, to which the Mautes belong, has a matriarchal tradition, and so their mother played a central role.

He said Farhana Maute, who according to the neighbor had furniture and used-car businesses, helped finance the group, and she drove recruitment and radicalization of local youths.

On Friday, she was stopped outside Marawi in a vehicle loaded with firearms and explosives and taken into custody. It was a major blow for the militants, according to Herrera, as she had been the “heart of the Maute organization”.

A day previously, the brothers’ father, an engineer, was arrested in Davao City, 250 km (155 miles) away.

When the Marawi siege began, several hundred militants were involved, including men from nations as far away as Morocco and Yemen. But most of the marauders, who took civilians as human shields and torched the town cathedral, were from four local groups allied to Islamic State, and in the lead were the Maute, military officials said.

According to Jones, the Maute group has “the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated members” of all the pro-Islamic State outfits in the Philippines.

Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a local civic leader who knows some of the Maute’s extended family, said the brothers rely heavily on social media to recruit young followers and spread their “rigid and authoritarian” ideology.

“The Mautes are very active online. On YouTube, they upload their ideas” she said. “They are articulate, they are educated, they are idealistic.”

The Maute family’s neighbor, who requested anonymity for his own safety, said the group’s fighters are fearless too.

He was trapped for five days in his three-storey house last month watching the battle between the militants and the Philippines armed forces unfold, with sniper fire pinging around him and OV-10 aircraft bombing from above.

“During the bombing runs of the OV-10, they just carried on eating biscuits, not running for cover,” he said.

On May 28, a group of seven fighters – he recognized Omarkhayam among them – came to his house and asked why he had not left. When he told them that he feared being caught in the crossfire, they guided him and several others to a bridge leading out of town and gave them a white cloth to wave.


The Maute group first surfaced in 2013 with a bombing of a nightclub in nearby Cagayan de Oro. Its stature has grown since then, most notably with the bombing last year of a street market in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown, Davao City.

Maute members who were captured said the Davao attack was ordered by Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf, a group that has fought since the 1990s for an independent Islamic province but is as well known as a vicious gang of criminals and kidnappers.

Hapilon, who was last year declared by Islamic State as its ’emir’ of Southeast Asia, was seen in a video that emerged last week showing the militants – including two Maute brothers – plotting to seal Marawi off as a separate enclave.

Herrera said the Mautes enjoy strong support in Marawi.

“This is their place, this is where their family is, this is where their culture is, this is where the heritage is. There is a huge sympathetic perspective towards the … Maute,” he said.

But Khana-Anuar Marabur Jr., a Marawi town councillor, said the Mautes had made enemies in the area with their radicalism.

He said he went to the brothers on the day the attack on Marawi was launched and they told him to the leave the town.

“They told me to leave because the caliphate … had ordered it,” Marabur told Reuters. “They treated me like an enemy.

I want to kill them now.”

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in MANILA and by Simon Lewis in MARAWI CITY; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

‘Dirty’ Jakarta election looms as religious politics resurfaces

An election official prepares ballot boxes before distributing them to polling stations, in Jakarta, Indonesia April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta

By Fergus Jensen and Tom Allard

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Luar Batang is one of the Indonesian capital’s oldest neighborhoods, founded in the 17th century to collect tolls from ships sailing in from the Java Sea when the city was the center of the Dutch East Indies spice trade.

Now, it is being demolished and many of its residents are being evicted to make way for a giant seawall meant to keep Jakarta from sinking under rising sea levels. That has made it ground zero for the election of the city’s governor, dubbed one of the most divisive election campaigns Indonesia has ever seen.

The incumbent governor, Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, was cruising toward a decisive election victory last September when he allegedly criticized a verse from the Koran that warns Muslims against allying with Christians and Jews.

Hardline Islamist groups responded with mass protests demanding that Purnama, an ethnic Chinese and Christian, be prosecuted. Police eventually did charge him with blasphemy.

It was Purnama who ordered the evictions from Luar Batang’s slums to make way for one of his many infrastructure projects aimed at modernizing this clogged and chaotic city.

Many of those who filled the streets of Jakarta to protest against him late last year were among the displaced, and violence broke out in Luar Batang after one of those demonstrations.

Luar Batang residents had just about given up their fight against evictions when the controversy over the Koran comments erupted, said one woman who did not want to be named, sitting outside a small shack amid the rubble.

“We see it as a gift from God,” she said, describing the slur as a means to bring down Purnama.


Opinion surveys show Purnama running neck and neck with his challenger Anies Baswedan, who, like some 85 percent of Jakartans, is a Muslim.

Purnama, 50, inherited the governorship after Joko Widodo was elected president in 2014. His brash talking style, a contrast with the soft-spoken Javanese politicians who dominate the ruling class, has grated on some voters.

Purnama won the first round of voting in February in a three-way race with 43 percent of the ballots to set up Wednesday’s second round with Basedan, who won 40 percent.

The campaign has been “the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen,” the Jakarta Post said in an editorial on Tuesday.

Calling the capital “the barometer of Indonesia’s political pulse”, the daily said the election would have a bearing on the next presidential election in 2019.

Police on Monday blocked plans by hardline Islamist groups to guard polling booths, citing the risk of clashes after a campaign fraught with religious tensions, and said around 66,000 police and military personnel will be deployed on voting day.


Prabowo Subianto, head of the Gerindra Party that Baswedan represents, said in a video message recorded over the weekend that “religious people need a leader who respects their beliefs”. Prabowo lost the 2014 election to President Widodo.

Purnama faces up to five years in jail if convicted of blasphemy. His trial will resume on Thursday, when prosecutors will submit their sentence request.

Prabowo said he was concerned about potential voter fraud.

“Cheating is a common enemy to us. We don’t want to cheat,” he said. “However, we will not hold back if we are cheated.”

Hardline Islamic cleric Habib Rizieq, who helped organize the anti-Purnama demonstrations during the campaign, last week urged Muslims to travel to Jakarta and be ready to “finish” their opponents.

“This is not a battle between Anies and Ahok. This is a battle between … defenders of Islam and those who blaspheme against Islam,” Rizieq said at an event in the city of Surabaya.

“Those who can come to Jakarta better have the guts to do so and prepare a will for your family,” he added, as the crowd roared in response.

At Luar Batang, where Prabowo’s party has set up tents for those evicted from their homes, the woman at the street cafe said people are tired of politicians’ false promises and warned that frustration could boil over if Purnama wins the vote.

“If (Purnama) is elected again something extraordinary will happen,” she said.

(Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Earliest Koran May Have Been Written Before Mohammed

A new study believes that the earliest version of the Koran was written before the religion was founded by the Prophet Mohammed.

A parchment found by the University of Birmingham has shown through radiocarbon dating to be between 568 A.D. and 645 A.D.  Most Muslims believe that Muhammad founded the religion in 610 A.D. and that the first Muslim community was formed in what is modern day Saudi Arabia in 622 A.D.

“This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Koran’s genesis, such as that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven,” said Oxford researcher Keith Small.

The manuscript contains parts of chapters 18-20 and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script.

“It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged – and that in turn has implications for the history of Muhammad and the Companions,” historian Tom Holland told the Times of London.

A senior lecturer of Islamic Studies at the University of London told Fox News that radiocarbon dating is not accurate because of the style of writing used on the parchment.

“[With] the style of the writing – it would be like saying you saw an iPhone in the 1990s,” Mustafa Shah said.

Saudi Arabia Sentences Man To Death For Renouncing Islam

An Islamic court in Saudi Arabia has given a death sentence to a man who renounced his Muslim faith.

The man posted an online video of himself ripping up a Koran and then hitting it with a shoe as he said he was no longer a Muslim.

A witness in the court says the video was played showing “’In the video he cursed God, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his daughter Fatimah and ripped a copy of the Holy Qur’an and hit it with a shoe.”  The death sentence was then immediately handed down.

Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS, follows the Wahhabi Sunni Muslim school and gives clerics control over the justice system.  Renouncing Islam brings a death sentence along with other crimes like blasphemy and criticism of senior Muslim clerics.

Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually public beheadings.

Pakistan Orders Arrest of Muslim Clerics In Christian Couple Death

The Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of two Muslim clerics that they say incited a mob to kill two Christians last month after they made false accusations of the couple desecrating the Koran.

In addition to the clerics, five police officials who failed to take action to protect the couple have also been arrested for their lack of action.

“Why they did not make an attempt to secure the couple as they could disperse the mob through aerial firing?” Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk asked. “It is because of the police’s negligence that the tragic incident occurred.”

In the incident last month, 28-year-old Shama Bibi and her husband Shahzah Masih, 32, were burnt in a kiln by a Muslim mob.  The mob had been informed at a mosque that the couple has been found guilty of blasphemy against Islam.

It turned out that the Bibi had burned items that her late father-in-law used to perform black magic and his family was so upset they told the clerics she had burned a Koran to get the Muslims to kill her.

The police report that over 100 people have been arrested on at least one charge connected to the unlawful killing of the couple.

Christian Couple Murdered By Muslim Mob in Pakistan

In the latest round of Christian persecution in Pakistan, a Christian couple was falsely accused of desecrating a Koran and then murdered.

The murder took place in Kot Radha Kirshan, a village about 40 miles from the city of Lahore according to the BBC.

The married couple, identified only as Shama and Shehzad, had worked at a brick kiln.  A desecrated Koran was found in the area of the kiln earlier in the day and a Muslim mob decided it had to be the Christian couple.  So they killed them and stuffed their bodies into the brick kiln.

The chief minister of the region has said he will investigate the killings.

The American Center for Law and Justice, who has been raising the alarm about Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on false accusations of blaspheming Mohammed, is calling for the U.S. to end foreign aid to Pakistan until they take steps to stop the killing of Christians.

Pakistani Christian Arrested Accused Of Burning Koran

A Pakistani man who converted from Hinduism to Christianity has been arrested on charges that he burned a Koran and a chart of Koranic verses.

The family of the accused man says however that Islamic extremist groups have falsely accused the man and a co-worker because a large amount of Hindus are converting to Christianity in their region.

Javed Masih, the Christian convert and his co-worker Anana Lal who is Hindu worked as janitors at the Government Excellent High School in Satellite Town.  The school’s headmaster, a Muslim, filed a report on August 29th claiming that he found the charred Koranic verses.

The moment the men were arrested, a mob made up of the Islamic extremist group Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam and Tahafuz Khatan-e-Nabuvat went to the men’s homes and called on the mob to burn the houses and kill the man’s children.

Masih’s wife was able to escape with their three children and is now in protective custody.

“Almost all Hindus who have converted, including us, accepted Christ as our savior not under any pressure, but of our free will,” she told Morning Star News. “The Hindu community is often targeted by Muslim groups, and our girls are forcibly taken and converted to Islam, so the community has a natural hatred for Islam.”

Police has repeatedly offered the Hindu man deals to set him free if he claims the Christian burned the Koran.

British Imam Confirms Koran Calls Muslims To Terror Acts

A British imam appeared on a Russian television program and confirmed that terrorism is part of the Islamic faith.

Imam Anjem Choudary was being interviewed by Russia Today journalist Oksana Boyko about the beheading of two American journalists by the Islamic terrorist group Islamic State.

“You said just recently on CNN that the decapitation of journalist James Foley was, in fact, an attempt by the Islamic State to terrorize their enemy, which in this case is the United States,” Boyko said to Choudary. “I wonder whether something like that could be justified under the Sharia law. Can you really hold an individual responsible for the actions of a collective? Is that legal in Islam?”

Choudary said that every action for a Muslim has to be based on the Qur’an and the teachings of Mohammed.  Then he surprised many with his next statement.

“I would first invite the people to think about and embrace Islam, but those who are already Muslim must know that Allah mentions in the Koran—in fact if you look in chapter 8 verse 60, he said, ‘Prepare as much as you can steeds of war to terrorize the enemy,’” he explained.

“So terrorizing the enemy is in fact part of Islam.”

Choudary is the former leader of Al-Majajiroun which is banned in England.  Two former members of the group were involved in the beheading of a British soldier in broad daylight on a public street.