The Latest: Philippines says militants’ number down to 30
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Latest on the militant siege in the southern Philippine city of Marawi (all times local):
The Philippine military chief says around 30 pro-Islamic State group militants, including fewer than eight foreign fighters, remain in the main battle area in southern Marawi city.
Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano told reporters Monday that 22 hostages and some 39 relatives of the militants also remain in the area.
A pre-dawn operation Monday left nine militants dead, including Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, who had been leading the final stand of the fighters.
Ano said the foreign fighters still in the battle area include top Malaysian militant Mahmud bin Ahmad and some other Malaysian and Indonesian extremists. Mahmud uses the nom de guerre Abu Handzalah and is a close associate of Hapilon.
Ano said 20 hostages were rescued Monday, including a 2-month-old baby girl born while her mother was in captivity. They bring to 1,771 the total number of hostages recovered since the start of the crisis.
The Philippine military chief says he expects other pro-Islamic State group extremist bands in the country’s south “to crumble” following the killing of two militant leaders, including one of Asia’s top terror suspects.
Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano told reporters Monday that the killings of Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, who had been leading the final stand of about 40 fighters in part of Marawi city, removed the “center of gravity” of a number of other IS-linked groups elsewhere in the south.
Ano says: “This is the end ... they will all start to crumble.”
Maute and three of his siblings, who also have been reportedly killed in the Marawi clashes, belonged to an IS-aligned militant alliance in Southeast Asia which Hapilon headed. Hapilon once belonged to the brutal Abu Sayyaf extremist group and later shifted to the IS-linked alliance of about 10 small militant groups.
Ano says the two slain extremist leaders were among seven fighters killed in a clash with U.S.-trained commandos before dawn Monday in two buildings. “The fighting was so intense. It was their final stand.”
Local assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong says with the death of two militant leaders involved in the siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi, the eagerness of the more than 390,000 displaced residents to return home is mounting.
Adiong, also the spokesman of the provincial crisis committee, said, “The eagerness of the people to return to their homes is there because this is a signal that the war is about to end.
He said with the militants now leaderless, he expects their morale to plummet and a substantial number of fighters to surrender.
Philippine security officials said the two final surviving leaders of the deadly siege, including a top Asian terror suspect, were killed in fierce fighting Monday.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says troops are hunting down other gunmen involved in the siege of a southern city after confirming the deaths of the two final surviving leaders of the months of militant violence in Marawi.
Four military and police officials earlier told The Associated Press that Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI’s most-wanted terror suspects, and Omarkhayam Maute were killed in a gunbattle and their bodies were found Monday.
Lorenzana told a news conference, “Yes they are confirmed dead.”
He said DNA tests would be done to confirm their identities.
A Philippine military spokesman says troops are being careful in the intense fighting with militants in Marawi city because of concerns for the safety of the 50 to 100 hostages still being held by the Islamic State group-linked militants.
Spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Monday he had heard “the good news” that the two final surviving leaders of the siege were killed but he had no official confirmation yet. Four military and police officials have told The Associated Press that Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute were killed in a gunbattle and their bodies were found Monday.
Padilla said troops were trying their best to make Marawi safe from bombs and booby traps. He said the fighting is nearing its end, but “We will take all the time we need so we can save whatever lives are still in the battle zone.”
Philippine security officials say the two final surviving leaders of a deadly siege in the south, including a top Asian terror suspect, have been killed in fierce fighting.
Four military and police officials told The Associated Press that Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI’s most-wanted terror suspects, and Omarkhayam Maute were killed in a gunbattle and their bodies were found Monday in a final area of battle in Marawi city.
Military leaders had said last month that three leaders of the Islamic State-linked militants who besieged the southern city were killed in the months of fighting but the two still alive were leading a final stand.