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The Mautes: From monied family to IS

By: Reuters

MANILA/MARAWI CITY – Before they formed one of the most dreaded militant groups in the Philippines and pledged loyalty to Islamic State, the Mautes were a wealthy, political family in the southern region of Mindanao, largely influenced by the matriarch, Farhana.

Soft-spoken and reserved, 60-year-old Farhana Maute owns property in Mindanao and in Manila, and runs a construction business, say people who know the family and security analysts who have scrutinized its background.

Almost unknown two years ago, the Mautes are now the biggest and most deadly among Islamic State groups in the southern Philippines and are at the forefront of a month-long battle with the military for control of Marawi.

Regional governments fear that the brutal urban warfare, in which 360 people have been killed, reflects Islamic State’s intention to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia.

Farhana Maute was related to politicians in her hometown of Butig, Lanao del Sur, near Marawi, and was considered somewhat of a kingmaker because of her wealth and influence. And like many clans in the lawless area, the Mautes maintained a private militia that included Farhana’s seven sons, the analysts said.

When the Mautes got involved in a dispute with Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar over the award of civil contracts, it erupted into a brutal clan feud, a clash so common to Mindanao it has its own name, rido.

Other militant groups in Mindanao joined the Mautes, and they formed a joint front in Marawi against government troops.

Joseph Franco, a research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who has worked with several Philippine military chiefs, said that early last year, the Mautes projected themselves as followers of Islamic State, or IS, to “spook and coerce the Pansars.”

“That tactical use of terrorist imagery took on a life of its own,” he said. “And now we have this Maute Group, who call themselves IS-Ranao.” Ranao is an old name for the Lanao region of Mindanao, where Marawi and Butig are located.

Although known to be a deeply religious Muslim, there was no evidence that Farhana Maute was radicalized, Franco said.

“She is only a businesswoman,” a former military officer who lives in Marawi told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But, her clan was involved in a bitter political dispute with the mayor of Butig. And that probably got her into trouble.”

Two of the sons, Omarkhayam and Abdullah, had been educated in the Middle East, but it is uncertain when they morphed from being scions of a wealthy family to becoming hardened Islamists.