Military expects new extremist leader to emerge

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Updated with input from Colonel Romeo Brawner and a press statement from Major General Restituto Padilla.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 17) — A day after after the deaths of two high-profile extremists, the Philippine military on Tuesday said it is not letting its guard down on the emergence of a new leader soon.

"There really is no known personality with the caliber of Hapilon and perhaps the Mautes who can replace them yet, but definitely there will be one coming up," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday.

This comes after the deaths early Monday of Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, one of the two founders of the ISIS-linked Maute group.

Related: Military kills Isnilon Hapilon, Omar Maute

SITE Intel Group Director Rita Katz said in a tweet on Monday that pro-ISIS supporters in East Asia (Sharq Asiya) hailed Hapilon as a "shaheed" or martyr, and warned "Marawi is just the beginning."

Hapilon is on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's "most wanted" terrorists list. Omar Maute and his brother Abdullah formed the Maute Group, whose members were from the ethnic Maranao group in Marawi City. The Maute Group had sought affiliation with ISIS, referring to themselves as IS (Islamic State)-Ranao.

Padilla recounted how extremist groups were quick to find replacements for their leaders who were killed. He referred to another Abu Sayyaf Group leader, Radillon Sajiron. Sajiron had immediately replaced placed Khadaffy Janjalani as leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2006, after Janjalani was killed in a government offensive on the southern island of Sulu. Sahiron and Hapilon are linked to the 1993 kidnapping of an American citizen, as well as the 2001 Dos Palmas kidnapping which led to the beheading of an American and two Filipino hostages.

"In a few months, in a few weeks, there emerged another one. There will be that process coming out again," Padilla said.

The military estimates around 20 hostages are in the hands of up to 30 Maute Group stragglers, six to eight of which are foreigners.

Among the extremists in the group believed to still be alive is their Malaysian financier, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, whom some believe might be a new terror leader. Joint Task Group Ranao Deputy Commander Col. Romeo Brawner told CNN Philippines that they were still in search of him.

"Hindi po tayo nakakasigurado sa kasalukuyan kung si Dr. Mahmud ang siyang itatalaga [sa liderato]. At malalaman po natin ‘yan sa mga susunod na araw sa magiging developments dito," Padilla said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

(Translation: We cannot be sure for now if Dr. Mahmud will be assigned [the leadership]. We will find out the developments in the coming days.)

Ahmad, who is also known among extremist groups as Abu Handzalah, is said to be in charge of recruitment of fighters and is a point person for foreigners wanting to join extremist forces in the Philippines, says the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

The IPAC concludes that Ahmad is poised to "play a critical role" in regrouping fighters in the Philippines, coordinating with Southeast Asian fighters from the Middle East, and strategizing attacks.

It adds that if Ahmad dies, the role might be given to a certain Abu Walid. Walid is from an Indonesian charity-turned-logistic support agency for communal conflicts in the Indonesian city of Ambon and the town of Poso.

Fighting in Marawi is winding down after almost five months since military troops entered Marawi City on May 23 in a bid to arrest Hapilon, only to find a well-prepared Maute Group lying in wait. The fighting has killed 163 soldiers, 47 civilians, and 847 Maute fighters.