AusAID cash went to Marawi ter­ror­ist

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - AMANDA HODGE MARAWI CITY, PHILIP­PINES

The Aus­tralian govern­ment paid one of the seven Maute broth­ers re­spon­si­ble for the deadly siege of Marawi city — the most se­ri­ous regional ter­ror event in years — po­ten­tially mil­lions of dol­lars to build class­rooms in the south­ern Philip­pines, even af­ter the militant group had pub­licly pledged al­le­giance to Is­lamic State in 2014.

The Week­end Aus­tralian has learned that Mo­ham­mad­khayam Maute, the el­dest brother, was con­tracted to help build class­rooms, sci­ence lab­o­ra­to­ries and school li­braries across the Autonomous Re­gion of Mus­lim Min­danao in a scheme funded through the for­mer AusAID agency, now ab­sorbed into the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade.

The six-year, $12.7 mil­lion project, which ran from 2012 to this year, was a cor­ner­stone of Aus­tralia’s aid con­tri­bu­tion to The Philip­pines through its Ba­sic Edu- cation As­sis­tance for Mus­lim Min­danao pro­gram that aimed to build hun­dreds of class­rooms in the most dis­ad­van­taged dis­tricts.

For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop marked the end of the scheme in March this year with a visit to Min­danao, where she met ben­e­fi­cia­ries and an­nounced fund­ing to sup­port con­flict-sen­si­tive ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices in the ARMM.

Last night her spokes­woman con­firmed the depart­ment dis­cov­ered the Maute link in an au­dit of the project in late 2015 af­ter a sub­con­trac­tor, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity, was sacked for un­der­per­for­mance. “It was revealed that Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity had con­tracted some of the class­room con­struc­tion work to a lo­cal firm as­so­ci­ated with the Maute fam­ily,” she said.

The Maute con­tract was ex­tin­guished once the sub­con­trac­tor was sacked and there was no al­le­ga­tion of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity or find­ings that money had been di­verted from the school project, she said.

The Maute con­tract raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about govern­ment due dili­gence on aid projects in con­flict-rid­den coun­tries. Mind- anao has a long his­tory as a train­ing ground for ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing the Bali bombers, and for years has been sub­ject to strong DFAT ad­vi­sories cau­tion­ing against travel.

Aus­tralia spends mil­lions of dol­lars a year in­ter­rupt­ing ter­ror fi­nanc­ing and in Septem­ber an­nounced a $4.6m project to block fund­ing to Is­lamic State-aligned ter­ror­ist groups in South­east Asia.

Although the Maute fam­ily may have been just an­other armed clan when the con­tract was awarded, its links to In­done­sia’s Je­maah Is­lamiah ter­ror net­work re­spon­si­ble for the Bali bomb­ings should have raised alarm bells.

The con­tract con­tin­ued even as the Maute group won na­tional no­to­ri­ety with its de­clared in­ten­tion to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic caliphate and in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent at­tacks.

The Maute fam­ily was con­tracted through its Alkhayam Sul­tana Con­struc­tion com­pany, reg­is­tered in the name of Na­jivya Sul­tana Ko­ran Maute, one of Mo­ham­mad­khayam’s wives and, like her late hus­band, a civil engi­neer.

Pic­tures on his now-deleted Face­book page sug­gest he was deeply in­volved in the con­tract.

The Week­end Aus­tralian has seen one pic­ture from 2015 — a year af­ter the Mautes pledged al­le­giance to Is­lamic State — that shows Mo­ham­mad­khayam and Na­jivya stand­ing in front of a new class­room be­side an Aus­tralian govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive and lo­cal of­fi­cials. The AusAID logo is dis­played promi­nently.

The Philip­pines mil­i­tary says all seven Maute broth­ers were killed in the Marawi con­flict.

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