Peace activist Aga Khan Sharief aka ‘Bin Laden’ dies in Marawi hospital

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 25 May) — Peace activist and Meranaw leader Aga Khan Sharief, more popularly known in Marawi and Lanao del Sur as “Bin Laden” because of his resemblance to Osama, succumbed to a lingering illness early Tuesday morning.

The 49-year-old Sharief is remembered for his role in helping save 255 trapped civilians during the siege of Marawi City.

Meranaw leader Agakhan Sharief airs the desire of Marawi City residents who are still living with their relatives or in evacuation centers to return home a year after the end of the five-month battle between government forces and ISIS-inspired militants in a rally in the city on 16 October 2018. Sharief was cited for his efforts in saving hundreds of civilians trapped during the fighting. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Riding on a small motorcycle on June 4, 2017, Sharief called out to civilians who were hiding in their houses in Marawi City after striking a shaky ceasefire between the military and the Maute militants.  He also led a team of religious leaders who negotiated for the release of Catholic priest Teresito Soganub on Eid’l Fitr, June 25, 2017. Five hostages were freed in lieu of Soganub.

Tirmizy Esmael Abdullah, national coordinator in the Philippines of the  Interfaith Cooperation Forum said Sharief died at around 1:25 a.m. at the Amai Pakpak hospital in Marawi City.

Abdullah said a small crowd of his friends gathered outside the hospital as Sharief fought for his life in the intensive care unit of the hospital where he was confined since a week ago.

“His heart finally gave up at around 1:25 am. We are grieving the loss of a great street parliamentarian of our people,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah said Sharief died of liver cirrhosis, an ailment he had been complaining about for years.

“Sharief was already sickly when he spearheaded the rescue of Marawi residents trapped in the fighting,” Abdullah said.

Drieza Lininding, head of the Moro Consensus Group said Sharief was buried Tuesday morning in the area of Heaven, Mindanao State University overlooking Marawi City, in keeping with Muslim tradition

“I lost a brother and a leader,” Lininding posted on his Facebook page.

Sharief’s efforts to rescue the trapped Marawi residents were initially spurned by President Rodrigo Duterte who accused Sharief of negotiating with the Maute militants.

Sharief said he had to negotiate with the militants and the soldiers as well so he can enter the battlegrounds in Marawi without being shot.

The Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah and Isnilon Hapilon granted the ceasefire and allowed a joint team of Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Lanao del Sur rescue workers to go inside the embattled city to rescue trapped civilians.

“Omar Maute would sometimes wait for us on the side of the street to guide us to where the civilians were hiding,” Sharief said.

He admitted he was scared that somebody would break the ceasefire and resume the fighting.

The government recognized Sharief for his role in saving trapped civilians during a ceremony held in the Mindanao State University in 2018.

Dickson Hermoso, Transportation and Communications Secretary of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao recalled that as soon as a ceasefire — referred to then as “humanitarian corridor” — took effect, Sharief and his team made their way inside the Ground Zero, the main battle area between government forces and the Matue Group and its allies.

Hermoso, a retired Army Colonel who used to head the government side of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)  was, in 2017, Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

Hermoso noted that most volunteers went inside Ground Zero without any bulletproof vest to protect themselves, trusting that both Army soldiers and Maute gunmen would honor the ceasefire.

A military officer inspects a van carrying Aga Khan Sharief who was bound for “Ground Zero” on Eid’l Fitr,  25 June 2017, along with a group of religious leaders to dialogue with the Maute brothers and Isnilon Hapilon to appeal for the release of Catholic priest Teresito SOganub and other hostages.  MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

He said the volunteers found the trapped civilians who maintained phone connections and directions from relatives who reported where they were hiding.

“Once the agreed ceasefire ended, the fighting erupted again. Our teams barely got out of the conflict area,” Hermoso said.

He said the team rescued a total of 255 civilians and a “peace corridor” allowed the entry of trucks delivering foodstuff to other towns in Lanao del Sur.

“This is a tribute to my friend, Bin laden. Thank you for your service to God and the people of Lanao del Sur,” Hermoso said.

On June 25, 2017, Sharief led a team of religious leaders who wanted to dialogue with the group holding the hostages to release Catholic priest Soganub.  The Maute brothers and Hapilon imposed conditions for the release of the priest but through Sharief’s appeal, allowed the release of five hostages who happened to be nearby and the body of an Imam who succumbed to an illness a few days earlier.

Sharief was the emissary whose name was withheld by the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor for security reasons. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)