MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 16 October) — Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute Group leader Omar Maute were killed during a military operation that also led to the rescue of 17 hostages in the early hours of Monday, Day 147 of the Marawi Crisis.
“They were both killed… They are confirmed dead,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo shortly before noon Monday.
Lorenzana noted that through the testimony of a hostage “who escaped” Saturday, they were able to confirm the presence of Hapilon, touted as the Emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and Maute in one of the buildings.
He said the death of these leaders means the fighting is almost over and they will announce the termination of hostilities “in a couple of days.” In the latter part of the brief press conference, Lorenzana declared the announcement will be “within the week.”
In a press statement, Lorenzana said they will announce the termination of hostilities “once government forces have ensured that there are no more terrorists-stragglers in the city and we have cleared all structures of IEDs and other traps.”
“After the fighting stops, we will refocus our efforts on the challenging task of rebuilding and rehabilitating Marawi,” said Lorenzana, also head of Task Force Bangon Marawi.
At the press conference, aired live nationwide, Lorenzana, said Malaysian national Dr. Mahmud,Ahmad, a Universiti Malaya professor who joined the Islamic State and is believe to have been among those who planned the Marawi siege, is reportedly still hiding in one of the buildings there.
Lorenzana said there are still around “21 or 22” hostages held by the terrorists.
Since September 15, a total of 41 hostages have been rescued: Fr. Teresito Soganub, Vicar-General of the Prelature of Marawi, and a teacher of Dansalan College on September 15; four others on September 21; 17 on October 4; one on October 14; and 17 on October 16.
Martial law lifting
Lorenzana acknowledged that even as Hapilon and Maute are dead, the terrorists still have “cells in Basilan, Sulu, also in Central Mindanao, but we will also get them.”
The bodies of Hapilon and Maute will be subjected to DNA tests, “because there are rewards coming from a foreign country” and rewards offered by the Philippine government as well.
The Rewards for Justice Program of the United States Department of State has placed a reward of up to 5 million US dollars (approximately 256 million pesos) “for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction” of Hapilon. He was indicted in the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts against US nationals and other foreign nationals as an official of the Abu Sayyaf, which is listed as a foreign terrorist organization.
President Rodrigo Duterte in early June offered a P10 million bounty on Hapilon, , and the P5 million each for the Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omar.
Asked if martial law in Mindanao will be lifted now that the leaders are dead, Lorenzana replied: “we are not talking about lifting martial law yet. Tingnan pa natin” (we’ll see).
He said after the cessation of hostilities in Marawi “within this week,” they will “assess the entire Mindanao if there is a need to recommend to the President the lifting of martial law.” (Froilan Gallardo with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)