Abstract: Two years after the Marawi siege in the Philippines, there are now new opportunities to interview some of the men and women who joined the Maute Group. The profiles that emerge are quite varied. Some attended university while others had no schooling whatsoever. Some were farmers and businessmen while others were students and imams. There were even addicts among the recruits. For the 25 respondents this author interviewed in February and July 2019, the two most important factors that drove their joining the group were having a pre-existing friend or relative already in the network and financial exigency. Redemption, revenge, and a desire to learn about Islam and participate in a jihad were secondary.

In 2013, “Abu Hamdan” returned to Butig, in the province of Lanao del Sur on the Philippines’ island of Mindanao, from Manila, following his divorce from his wife. He contends he had been a hitman for a drug gang, a drug dealer, a gun runner, and a carjacker, and he abused both alcohol and drugs. He returned home to Butig with one of his sons. The remaining five children stayed in Manila with their mother. He moved back into his mother’s house to sober up and figure out the next steps in his life.1

Shortly after he and his son arrived home, he says Omar and Abdullah Maute, his first cousins on his mother’s side, began sending a liaison to convince him to join the new group they were putting together to build an ‘Islamic’ society and mini-state in Lanao Del Sur. This went on until one day when he got fed up and went personally to Omar and Abdullah and told them, “I’m not ready to join you, but I will inform you when I’m ready.”2

Abu Hamdan asserts that Omar and Abdullah were eager to recruit him. He knew the underworld. He knew how to hold guns. He had been involved in rido (clan wars). He had been involved in gunfights with the military. From their perspective, Abu Hamdan was key to making their group lethal and successful. And he was also family. To win him over, they flattered his ego. “You’re an expert on guns. We need your expertise.” He responded that he had just gone through the failure of a personal relationship and needed to rebuild the broken pieces inside.3

Yet Omar and Abdullah seemed like the solution. “I wanted to cleanse my heart. Omar would help me. He would teach me Islam so I could live like a Muslim. I went to my mother and told her, ‘I want to cleanse everything. Get rid of my vices. I feel sorry for the horrible things I’ve done. I want to join Omar because maybe he can help me.’” According to Abu Hamdan, his mother immediately retrieved the family car and dropped him at Omar’s house. The Maute brothers were happy to see him. They embraced him, served him a lot of food, and said, “hey brother, you’ve made the right choice. This is the true way to be a Muslim.”4

Abu Hamdan joined the Maute Group in its infancy, driven by a combination of two factors: his longstanding ties to the Maute brothers and his desire for personal redemption. He wanted to be better, do better, and saw a return to an ‘Islamic’ life as a possible solution; Omar Maute represented the key to that life.5

In February and July of 2019, the author and her research team conducted interviews with 25 former members of the Maute Group and its related faction, which locals termed Daulah Islamiyah, in Marawi, Butig, and Piagapo.a One of those interviewed was Abu Hamdan. Twelve were farmers at the time of recruitment, while five had been students; one was a teacher; one was an imam; four others ran small businesses; one was an unemployed addict; and one, Abu Hamdan, a hitman. Three had attended college; six had attended some high school but did not finish; the remaining 16 either attended elementary school before dropping out or never went to school at all. Four were women, and 21 were men.6

In looking at this small subgroup sample, those who joined did so because, like Abu Hamdan, they knew and trusted the person recruiting them—most often, a relative—because they were desperately poor and needed the promised 20,000-50,000 pesos ($382-$954) to provide for their families; and less frequently, because they were seeking redemption at a critical juncture in their life. Those with more education, some high school or college, who were recruited earlier than the farmers—in 2013 or 2014—were enticed by the opportunity to learn more about Islam.

What Was the Maute Group?
The Maute Group was the brainchild of Omar and Abdullah Maute, two brothers from a wealthy and politically well-connected family in the town of Butig who had studied abroad in the Middle East.7 At some point, following the conclusion of their schooling, they became radicalized, but the trigger for this remains unclear. It is known that Omar married an Indonesian but was later expelled from her family’s Islamic boarding school for his strict Wahabi views.8 It is uncertain whether initially, the Mautes deployed Islamic State symbols instrumentally, but in time, the incentives for allying themselves with the Islamic State—in the form of attention and funding—proved irresistible.

The Mautes provided Qur’an study lessons to children, using them as a means of recruitment and ideological indoctrination, and offered paramilitary training in 2013, 2014, and 2015 in Butig.9 They built a coalition of pro-Islamic State groups that transcended clan, bringing together Maranao, Tausug, and Maguindanao, and that included Isnilon Hapilon’s faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group; an Islamic State cell from the town of Cotabato; and Ansharul Khalifa Philippines (AKP) based in Sultan Kudarat.10 They escalated activities in 2016, clashing with the military in Butig in February; posting a video of themselves in April swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and referring to themselves as Islamic State-Ranao; masterminding the bombing of the Davao night market on September 2 of that year in conjunction with other components of its coalition; occupying the town of Butig that November; and clashing again with the military in April 2017 in Piagapo.11

The Maute Group’s activities need to be understood against the backdrop of 40 years of Moro insurgency against the state; the reality of the military’s repressive tactics in areas like Butig and Piagapo,12 which would become prime recruiting ground for Maute Group members; and the Bangsamorob dominant narrative of justice only through self-governance based on Islamic precepts.13 Initially, the Maute brothers sought to form an alliance with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); this made sense as the Mautes were a MILF family. At first, one of the MILF’s ‘renegade commanders,’ the influential Commander Bravo, allowed them to use one of their training camps.14 However, after a falling out with Commander Bravo in 2014, the Maute brothers established their own camp in Butig and began recruiting from family and friends, as well as from local mosques and communities in Butig, Piagapo, and Marawi. They poached recruits from the MILF, mostly disillusioned younger members who were dismayed at the slow progress of the latter’s peace process plan through the legislature.15

In May 2017, the coalition took over Marawi. As they moved about the city, they took hostages, executing those who could not recite the shahadah (the profession of faith in Islam).16 Adopting the manner of the Islamic State, they dressed the hostages in orange jumpsuits, and videos of the executions were distributed via Islamic State media channels.17 According to Quinton Temby, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, the goal of the Marawi takeover appeared to be carving out territory in an attempt to gain official recognition as part of the Islamic State, as the East Asia Wilaya (East Asia Province).18 The Marawi siege was masterminded by Omar and Abdullah Maute, with funding from both Islamic State Central and local sympathizers.19

The Battle for Marawi, as it was termed, lasted five months. On May 23, 2017, the Philippine government launched a massive counter-attack, deploying 22 battalions drawn from its army, air force, and navy and shelling large portions of the city.20 The conflict also resulted in massive displacement of the urban population; Amnesty International estimated some 360,000 persons were forced to flee their homes during the conflict.21 As of March 2019, 70,000 people were still living in squalid evacuation sites, IDP camps, transitional shelters, or relatives’ homes.22 While much of the affected area has been cleared as of August 2019, the IDPs are still unable to return to their homes.23

Marawi “Ground Zero,” February 2019 (Chernov Hwang personal photo)

Who Joined the Maute Group
The leadership of the Maute Group was smart and highly educated. Omar and Abdullah Maute had gone to university abroad, Omar at Al Azhar University in Cairo and Abdullah in Jordan.24 Commanders were also well educated, as were some of the early recruits from universities and several members of other coalition groups, notably the Islamic State cell in Cotabato.25 Many among the rank and file Maranao,c however, were poor farmers or small businessmen from large families.26 Some were former members of the MILF or had MILF members in their extended families.27 In some instances, they had witnessed fathers and uncles going to battle against the government.28 Thus, they were socialized into a paramilitary jihad culture and community and MILF narratives of Bangsamoro grievance in a way that perhaps the average civilian was not.

Southern Philippines (Brandon Mohr)

Why They Joined
Most of the 25 individuals interviewed who joined the Maute Group were recruited by someone they knew, typically a family member or a relative. This finding is consistent with the study of political participation; social activism; gang and cult membership; and right-wing, left-wing, and religious forms of terrorism that kinship ties and prior friendship bonds facilitate recruitment.29 Kinship both inspires loyalty within movements and makes betrayal far less likely.30 Kinship ties are used in the construction of terrorist cells. For example, six of the 19 9/11 hijackers were brothers.31 The perpetrators of the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia also included three brothers—Mukhlas, Amrozi, and Ali Imron32—while the 2009 Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotel bombings in Jakarta included the extended family of Saifuddin Zuhri.33 The perpetrators of the Surabaya, Indonesia, bombings came from three families who attended religious study together.34 In short, recruitment among family and friends is quite common.

Of the 25 former jihadis interviewed in the Philippines, 15 reported being recruited by a family member or friend. Omar and Abdullah Maute recruited heavily from their direct and extended families, including children as young as eight.35 For example, they groomed their nephew “Jabir” since the age of 13, after he joined their daily Qur’an study in the town of Butig. In Piagapo, Imam Abilino Dimakaling targeted his nephews, cousins, sons-in-law, and the young men who attended his mosque.36

In addition to personal ties, 15 of those interviewed cited financial promises of a regular salary of between 20,000 and 50,000 pesos ($382-$954). For example, “Faidah” was recruited by Islamic State militants at the age of 16 due to her family’s poor financial conditions.37 Similarly, “Amira” joined the Maute Group also at 16 to obtain money to pay for a hernia operation.38 However, incentives were not only monetary. On rare occasions, other material incentives came into play. For Shabad-addicted “Teo,” for example, the promise of a steady supply of methamphetamine led him to join and remain.39

Redemption and revenge emerged as secondary themes. Redemption was salient for five individuals who either had a history of alcoholism, drug abuse, or criminality, on the one hand, or who had gone through a traumatic event such as a serious illness or divorce, on the other. Calls to “make your life worth living” and “do jihad and go to heaven” resonated especially with this sub-group.40 Revenge was also a secondary theme for three young men. For two youth from Piagapo, “Alex” and “Asis,” it was the killing of Imam Abilino Dimakaling that prompted them to join the Maute Group, driven by a desire to avenge his death.41

While ideological affinity did not drive joining, it played a role among the more educated members in the sample—those who attended high school or college. “Abu Usama,” a college student, was invited to attend a four-day religious seminar by a friend in 2013 at the home of Omar and Abdullah Maute.42 Abdullah taught the approximately 30 participants, covering the meaning of Islam, its importance in a person’s life, punishments for violating ‘Islamic’ law, and the meaning and importance of jihad.43 The lectures on punishments convinced him—he drank, he smoked—of the need to redeem himself.44 By day four, he was promising to be the shield of Islam.45

According to others’ earlier research, members of the Islamic State cell in Cotabato participated in religious discussions at what they called the “Salaf” mosque in Sousa, Cotabato, where they would watch YouTube videos about the Islamic State.46 Likewise, “Jamal” the nephew of Imam Abilino Dimakaling, reported attending daily study sessions at Dimakaling’s mosque in Piagapo where they would watch YouTube videos about the Islamic State’s predecessor group in Iraq, beginning as early as 2007.47 Those who were recruited early, between 2013 and 2015, attended either one- or two-month-long paramilitary training sessions in Butig, which were a combination of ideological indoctrination, weapons training, and physical fitness.48 However, for six others recruited at Friday prayers at Dimakaling’s mosque in 2016 and 2017 just prior to the siege, ideological instruction was done at a more superficial level.49 The population was not high school and college students; it was men with either no education or elementary-level education.50 There were no YouTube videos and no four-day seminars.51 The major takeaways imparted were that they would “raise Marawi” for Muslims and that if they died in a jihad, they would go to heaven.52 Among those six, the desire to participate in such a jihad was palpable, but their understanding of that jihad was limited and localized.

Implications for Post-Conflict Rehabilitation
Marawi remains a traumatized city. As civil society organizations work to design effective rehabilitation and reintegration programming, it is important to consult with Maranao men and women, with the victims of the siege, and with those who participated in it.53 It is also critical to understand what drove individuals to join the Maute Group. If their accounts are to be believed, they did not join out of affinity with the Islamic State. Rather, they joined because they trusted the person asking them, most often a relative; the promise of supplemental income was enticing; and for a handful, they wanted to redeem themselves or they wanted to learn more about Islam. While they were enamored with the idea of joining a jihad, this was fundamentally a local jihad meant to improve conditions in Marawi, not the ‘global jihad’ of the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida. This dovetails with several key points made by Sidney Jones and Kiriloi Ingram in their research on recruitment in various components of the pro-Islamic State coalition in Mindanao.54

With these lessons in mind, as civil society organizations look toward rehabilitation of former militants, a focus on life-skills training, professional development and, possibly, trauma counseling is likely to be useful. The Philippines Mindanao Youth for Development Project, which offers job training for at-risk youth, is one such program worthy of attention.55

However, even the best designed CVE programming will fall short if the government does not expedite the rehabilitation of the physical infrastructure in the Most Affected Area (MMA). Initial efforts were inadequate, as the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), the government office in charge of rehabilitation, neglected initially to involve local stakeholders.56 Plans proposed by the TFBM to remake Marawi as a gentrified hub for tourism neglected the city’s heritage as the center of Islamic education in Mindanao.57 This evoked considerable ire among local Maranao.58 In October 2018, the Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement asserted, “plans have been made without our participation that bear the stamp of our culture … and whose mechanics and implementation are not clear to us. One thing is clear: the people of Marawi are largely left out.”59 There is some indication that at least as of July 2019, there was some Maranao involvement in reconstruction and rehabilitation via investors.60 The ongoing issue remains the displaced. Some have taken to social media, creating the hashtag #letmegohome to protest the iterated delays.61 If reconstruction continues to stall, this risks amplifying the ideas pushed by the Maute Group that Islam is under attack.62

“Abu Usama” had his own take on what was needed going forward to prevent a recurrence and reemergence of a Maute-style group in Marawi. “The government has to put more effort into reaching these people. Show them the government cares for them. They are still trapped in their mindset of historical injustices. Show them in advance what Islam is. Because if someone who has bad intentions comes to them first, there is a possibility they would be recruited … if they are a poor person, ignorant of their religion, they are easy prey.”63     CTC

Julie Chernov Hwang is an associate professor in the department of political science and international relations at Goucher College. She is the author of Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists, published by Cornell University Press in 2018. She conducted fieldwork in Marawi, Philippines, in February and July of 2019. She wishes to thank Noor Huda Ismail, Sherbien Delacanio Nashiba Ating Lomondaya, and Janisa Jamil for their invaluable assistance with this article. Follow @Julie_C_Hwang

Substantive Notes
[a] The research for this project was conducted by the author in Butig, Piagapo, and Marawi in February and July 2019. The project was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Goucher College. To arrange interviews, the author worked through several guides who arranged interviews with their contacts among the Maute surrenderees and the not-yet-surrendered former members of the Maute Group and Daulah Islamiyah. Meetings were conducted in people’s homes, a short walk from interviewees’ or guides’ homes, and the research team provided food for interviewees, if meetings coincided with a meal or snack time. There was always coffee. When the author did interviews, she asked each interviewee to provide a pseudonym. Interviews were conducted in Maranao or Tagalog unless the respondent was fluent in English, which two of them were. One of the guides also translated Tagalog-English, while the author worked with a translator for Maranao-English. Informed consent was provided orally. Interviewees were apprised of the goals of the project, that the research would take steps to shield their identity, that participation was strictly voluntary, that they could stop at any time, and that they were under no obligation to answer any question that made them uncomfortable. The author was not in a position to independently verify the accounts provided by the interviewees. Unless a more specific citation is provided to a particular interview, these interviews are hitherto cited “Author’s Philippine Interview Series.”

[b] Bangsamoro is a unifying term used by Muslims from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao to refer to themselves.

[c] The Maranao are one of the Muslim clans in Mindanao.

[d] Shaba is a form of methamphetamine.

[1] Author interview, “Abu Hamdan,” former member of the Maute Group, February 2019, Marawi, Philippines. This information came directly from interviewing Abu Hamdan.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Raju Gopalkrishnan and Manuel Mogato, “The Mautes of the Philippines: from Monied Family to Islamic State,” Reuters, June 22, 2017.

[8] “‘Articulate, Educated, Idealistic’ Maute Brothers Who Brought Islamic State’s Brand of Terror to Southern Philippine City,” South China Morning Post, June 12, 2017.

[9] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[10] Sidney Jones, “Radicalization in the Philippines: The Cotabato Cell of the East Asia Wilayah,” Terrorism and Political Violence 30:6 (2018): p. 934; Richard Heydarian, “After ISIS, What’s Next for Marawi?” Foreign Affairs, November 9, 2017.

[11] Jones, p. 938.

[12] Mags Maglana, “ Commentary: Actively Listening to Maranaw Voices,” Mindanews, August 5, 2017.

[13] Jones, p. 936.

[14] Author correspondence, Southeast Asia security analyst, May 2019.

[15] “Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy After the Battle for Marawi,” International Crisis Group Asia Commentary, July 17, 2018.

[16] “The Battle for Marawi: Death and Destruction in the Philippines,” Amnesty International, November 17, 2017, p. 13.

[17] Quinton Temby, “Cells, Factions, and Suicide Operatives: The Fragmentations of Militant Islamism in the Philippines Post-Marawi,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 41:1 (2019): p. 116.

[18] Ibid., p. 116.

[19] “Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy After the Battle for Marawi.”

[20] Ibid.; Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[21] “The Battle for Marawi,” p. 6.

[22] Bong Sarmiento, “Nearly 18 Months After Liberation, Marawi has yet to Rise from the Ashes of War,” Mindanews, April 8, 2019.

[23] Author correspondence, contact in Marawi, August 2019.

[24] “‘Articulate, Educated, Idealistic.’”

[25] Jones, p. 934; Neil Jerome Morales and Tom Allard, “The Maute Brothers: Southeast Asia’s Islamist Time Bomb,” Reuters, June 11, 2017.

[26] “Understanding Violent Extremism: Messaging and Recruitment Strategies on Social Media in the Philippines,” Asia Foundation and Rappler, 2018, p. 14; Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[27] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Mohamed Hafez, “The Ties that Bind: How Terrorists Exploit Family Bonds,” CTC Sentinel 9:2 (2016); Donatella Della Porta, “Recruitment Processes into Clandestine Political Organizations,” International Social Movement Research (1988); Justin Magouirk, Scott Atran, and Marc Sageman, “Connecting Terrorist Networks,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 31 (2008): pp. 1-16; Doug McAdam, “Recruitment to High Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer,” American Journal of Sociology 92:1 (1986): pp. 64-90; James A. Densley, “Street Gang Recruitment: Signaling, Screening and Selection,” Social Problems 29:3 (2012): pp. 301-321; Thomas Hegghammer, “The Recruiter’s Dilemma: Signaling and Rebel Recruitment Tactics,” Journal of Peace Research 50:1 (2013).

[30] See “Understanding Violent Extremism,” p. 12; Sulastri Osman, “Jemaah Islamiyah: Of Kin and Kind,” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs 29:2 (2010); Jones; Joseph Franco, “Confronting the Threat of an ISIS Province in Mindanao,” in Khader Majeed, Neo Loo Sang, Jethro Tang, Damien Cheong, and Jeffrey Chin eds., Learning from Violent Extremist Attacks (Singapore: World Scientific, 2019), p. 24; Julie Chernov Hwang, “Terrorism in Perspective: An Assessment of Jihad Project Trends,” Asia-Pacific Issues (2012); Temby, p. 117; and “The Philippines: Militancy and the New Bangsamoro,” International Crisis Group #301, June 27, 2019.

[31] Hafez.

[32] Julie Chernov Hwang, Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018).

[33] Kirsten Schulze, “The Surabaya Bombing and the Evolution of the Jihadi Threat in Indonesia,” CTC Sentinel 11:6 (2018): p. 4.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Kiriloi Ingram, “Revising Marawi: Women and the Struggle Against the Islamic State in the Philippines,” Lawfare, August 4, 2019.

[38] Author interview, “Amira,” former member of the Maute Group, July 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[39] Author interview, “Teo,” former member of the Maute Group, July 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[40] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[41] Carmen Fonbuena, “They Fooled Us: The Men Who Left ISIS in the Philippines,” Guardian, August 8, 2019.

[42] Author interview, “Abu Usama,” former member of the Maute Group, March 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[43] Author interview, “Abu Usama,” former member of the Maute Group, March 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[44] Author interview, “Abu Usama,” former member of the Maute Group, March 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[45] Author interview, “Abu Usama,” former member of the Maute Group, March 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[46] Jones, p. 938.

[47] Author interview, “Jamal,” former member of the Maute Group, February 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

[48] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Maglana.

[54] See Ingram and Jones.

[55] Laura Dillon-Binkley and Melanie Sany, “Public-Private Dialogue: Mindanao, Southern Philippines Education and Employment Opportunities for Youth,” presented at the Public-Private Dialogue 2017 Workshop in Tunis, Tunisia, May 2017.

[56] Carolyn Arguillas, “The Ruins of Marawi: A Year After Liberation, Meranaws Await Rehabilitation,” Mindanews, October 17, 2018.

[57] “Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy After the Battle for Marawi.”

[58] Ibid.

[59] Arguillas.

[60] Author’s Philippine Interview Series.

[61] Temby, pp. 117, 119.

[62] “Philippines: Addressing Islamist Militancy After the Battle for Marawi.”

[63] Author interview, “Abu Usama,” former member of the Maute Group, February 2019, Marawi, Philippines.

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