(UPDATE 9 – 2:15 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Maute Group leader Omarkhayam Maute and senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called “emir” of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia are already dead, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed during a press briefing past 11 a.m., Monday.
“Ang implication nito ay malapit nang matapos ‘yong Marawi incident natin [The implication of this is the Marawi incident will soon end] and we may announce the termination of hostilities in a couple of days,” said Lorenzana.
But the DND chief said the remains must still undergo DNA testing to determine if the bodies recovered from the encounter in Marawi indeed belong to Maute and Hapilon.
He said the test results were also needed so that those who had helped the government pursue Maute and Hapilon could claim their rewards.
Last June, President Rodrigo Duterte placed a P10-million bounty on Hapilon’s head. He also offered a reward of P5 million each for Maute brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah. An additional $5-million bounty was raised by the U.S. government for the capture or killing of Hapilon.
The two were killed during a firefight with soldiers around 4 a.m., Monday. Seventeen hostages, including a five-year-old child, were rescued during the early Monday morning military offensive. [See below the remains of Hapilon and Maute]
— Kaye Imson (@KatherineImson) October 16, 2017
Litrato ng mga bangkay ng mga leader ng ISIS-Maute Group na sina Omar Maute at Isnilon Hapilon. pic.twitter.com/qwRIItzYUw
— Dindo Flora (@dindoflora) October 16, 2017
Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino Rozzano Biazon, senior vice chair of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, on Monday congratulated the military for “this accomplishment which will bring peace closer to Marawi in particular and the Country in general.”
“In eliminating the top leaders, the strategic decision making and direction of the terrorists will be impaired, giving the AFP an advantage in going after the rest of the group which may experience a setback due to the leadership vacuum. The AFP should exploit this opportunity,” said Biazon.
“With the conflict in Marawi nearing the end and the mission almost accomplished, the government must prepare for the return of the troops, paying particular attention to their mental health,” he added.
Maute and Hapilon’s groups seized parts of the Lanao del Sur capital on May 23 to establish an Islamic State caliphate in Southeast Asia, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the area and in the whole of Mindanao.
Another leader, Abdullah Maute, was reported by the Philippine Army to have been killed in August, though no body was found to prove his death.
Military still looking for Malaysian terrorist in Marawi as 20 more hostages remain in the hands of extremist groups
On Monday, Lorenzana said government troops were also also looking for Mahmud bin Ahmad, a Malaysian terrorist who helped lead and finance the siege of Marawi.
“According to some reports, he’s still hiding in one of the buildings there and that’s what they are trying to do now.”
The DND chief said about 20 more hostages remain in the hands of the extremist groups.
“We believe they still have cells in Basilan, Sulu, and also Central Mindanao. But we will also get them,” said Lorenzana.
Asked if the lifting of martial law would follow after the demise of Maute and Hapilon, the DND secretary said, “We are not talking about lifting martial law yet. Tignan pa natin [We will still look into it]. We are only looking at the immediate aftermath of the killing of these two leaders.”
“Sabi ko nga [As I’ve said], we may be announcing the cessation of hostilities in Marawi City within this week. And after that, we’ll find out, we’ll assess the entire Mindanao if there is a need to recommend to the president the lifting of martial law,” he said.
“The troops are prepared [for possible retaliation],” Lorenzana added.
The rebel alliance is comprised of fighters from the Maute group, Abu Sayyaf, and aided by foreigners from countries that include Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and some Middle East states. Child soldiers and teenagers are among the gunmen.
The ease at which the rebels took control of Marawi and their ability to endure more than 130 days of air strikes, has caused fears in the Philippines and the region that Islamic State’s radical ideology and its advanced recruitment methods are more prevalent than was previously imagined.
The clashes have killed 813 rebels, 47 civilians and 162 military since insurgents seized the heart of Marawi on May 23, according to the Philippine government.
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