ISIS Looted Gold And Jewellery To Recruit New Fighters In The Philippines

Philippine soldiers walk past destroyed buldings in Bangolo district, after President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City 'liberated', in Marawi on October 17, 2017. Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

Militants linked to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) stole gold, jewellery and cash worth millions of dollars from the southern Philippine city they took control of last year, according to the military.

The money they accumulated is now being used by a man known as Humam Abdul Najib or Abu Dar, one of the most senior ISIS-affiliated jihadis in the country, to recruit hundreds of fighters to his radical Islamist cause, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

ISIS-allied fighters from two militant groups, Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, overran large parts of Marawi in May last year, before ransacking jewelery shops and other businesses. The offensive lasted five months, with hundreds of jihadis embedding for the close-quarters urban warfare in the city. The Philippines eventually declared the city liberated in October.

Ebra Moxsir, the southern city's police chief, said there was more money to be stolen in the city because the conflict was ongoing before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when followers of the Islamic faith would give presents to others.

"There was a lot of money inside the battle area," he told Reuters. "Maranaos keep millions of pesos in safety vaults in their homes. Gold, also. It is a tradition of the Maranao to give gifts of money (during Ramadan)."

He continued: "They were saying it was a gift from Allah. They would say 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest) while we were stealing."

Rights groups have accused some soldiers of looting in the city themselves and the military confirmed that several have been caught and punished for the crime.

Officials put the estimate of the amount stolen at around $40 million. They are now concerned that the jihadis are using their treasure to rebuilt and mount another offensive on the city, or carry out attacks elsewhere in the country.

The militants had hoped to turn the southern city of Marawi into a capital of a de facto Islamic state as an extension of ISIS's self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria that has now virtually crumbled.

Evidence surfaced last year that pointed to the jihadis laying siege to the city receiving funding from the group's central command in Syria, with ISIS fighters funneling funds to Asian militants to aid the offensive.

Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group—the radical Islamist ally of the Maute group—led the battle for Marawi but was killed in October.

The Abu Sayyaf group, known for taking hostages to raise funds, has pledged allegiance to ISIS and has beheaded several Western nationals, including two Canadian men and a German man, in the last year.

The battle for Marawi was the most significant capture of Asian territory by an ISIS-linked group since its rise in mid-2014. It was also the most notable seizure of a population center outside Iraq and Syria since ISIS seized the Libyan central coastal city of Sirte in mid-2015.