Relatives, Redemption, and Rice: Motivations for Joining the Maute Group.

AuthorHwang, Julie Chernov

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, "Im 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; andless 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...

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