A decade after his release from prison, a former henchman of ISIS’ leader in Asia predicts the battle unfolding in the southern Philippines city of Marawi won’t stop there.
Abu Jihad (not his real name) retains a seriousness about him. His hair is short and neat, and these days streaked with white. He sports a neat goatee and is considered and thoughtful when he speaks.
He predicts the Marawi siege is only the beginning of a wider jihadist war in the region.
Under the overall command of Isnilon Hapilon, the wiry leader of the Filipino jihadi Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), militants have held Marawi (a city of 200,000) for over a month, defiantly facing down government troops and daily airstrikes.
The intense, bloody battle, which has so far claimed the lives of over 70 soldiers and caused hundreds of thousands to flee, has seen much of the city reduced to rubble as Philippines forces attempt to drive out militants, street by street. Almost 30 civilians have also died in the fighting.
Around 300 militants from as many as 14 different jihadist groups have died in the siege, which started on May 23 and appeared to catch the government off guard.
For years a member of ASG, one of the most ruthless militant organizations in a part of the Philippines known for its long history of extremism, and a friend and brother-in-arms of Hapilon, Abu Jihad is now concerned the militant group’s recent successes will embolden further attacks.
He tells CNN his former friend’s brutality “will not end only in Marawi.”
Now a reformed jihadi who denounced militancy while imprisoned, he is desperate to use his life’s experience to warn against the excesses of his former comrades. He requests anonymity from CNN – he is fearful his enemies will find him and kill him for speaking out against violent jihad.
“They might succeed (in holding Marawi)” he tells CNN from an undisclosed location, his face obscured to prevent identification.
“But they also know, in case they might not succeed (in holding Marawi), at least they have been tested. They have tried.”