Palace knew of Maute attack threats

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 13) — The Palace confirmed on Tuesday that it knew of the Maute group's plan to take over Marawi City prior to the attack on May 23.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said authorities acted on the information and "pre-empted" what could have been a worse situation.

"The early action of the military and the government has actually pre-empted their plans to be able to capture the city,” Abella said in a press briefing, referring to the Maute group.

“Yes, there were intel, but it was something that had to be vetted and to be authorized properly," he added.

Despite having known of the threat, the country’s top security officials—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Council Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr.—joined President Rodrigo Duterte on his official visit to Russia which began on the same day of the attack. The Philippine delegation had arrived in Moscow the day before.

Duterte's trip, which was supposed to be until May 26, was cut short due to the violence that erupted in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, prompting him to declare martial law throughout Mindanao.

READ: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

Abella said the officials were handling the crisis, even as the Russia trip was underway.

"They were all on top of the situation. They were actually monitoring everything,” he said.

The fighting between government security forces and Maute is now entering its fourth week. Efforts to liberate Marawi City continue.

“Let us also give them credit that actually, the action on the ground (by military and police) actually pre-empted the plans," Abella said.

On the day of the attack, government forces had arrived in Marawi City to serve a warrant of arrest on former Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was believed to be in the city after joining the Maute group. Maute members seized a hospital and key buildings in the city and took civilian hostages.

Most of Marawi City is under government control but there are areas where the Maute are fiercely holding ground, using trapped civilians as human shields.

"Tuloy-tuloy po ang lahat (Everything will go as planned). We will not stop until it's finished. The June 12 was a working deadline set by the military," Abella said.

"However, as you have very well seen, the issue is more complicated on the ground,” he added.

READ: Duterte: ISIS leader ordered terrorist activities in PH

In January 2016, the leadership of the Islamic fundamentalist terror group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), designated Hapilon as ISIS’ “emir” in the Philippines. Following his designation as emir, the Maute Group designated itself as a chapter of ISIS by calling itself IS-Ranao, since they were based in Lanao del Sur.

Abella said they treated “with concern and continued decisiveness” reports that ISIS has ordered more attacks in countries including the Philippines even as the Muslim community celebrates the holy month of Ramadan.

His remarks came even as the Supreme Court began on Tuesday three-day hearings on oral arguments of three petitions to consider as unconstitutional the declaration of military rule in Mindanao.

READ: Marawi crisis not grounds for martial law — petitioners