Tue, Jul 04, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Top militant might still be in Marawi, Philippines says

AP, MANILA, Philippines

Smoke yesterday billows from houses as fighting between government troops and Muslim militants continues in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

Photo: AFP

The Philippines’ defense chief yesterday said that the militant leader of the group that laid siege to a southern city is suspected to be hiding in a mosque there, days after he was reported to have fled the bombed-out city.

“According to our latest info he is still inside Marawi,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference in Manila. “In fact there is information we got this morning that he is hiding in one of the mosques there in Marawi.”

He said the information might be correct because government informants have been watching for Hapilon’s arrival in his stronghold of Basilan Island, but have not seen him there.

Hapilon was not among three fighters from Marawi who arrived in Basilan a week ago, Lorenzana said.

The militants aligned with the Islamic State group attacked Marawi on May 23 and are confined in a small area, but still putting up resistance to government forces who have retaken most of the city.

The violence has left at least 459 people dead including 39 civilians, 336 militants, and 84 soldiers and policemen.

At least eight foreign fighters are believed to be among the dead, Lorenzana said.

Hapilon is the Islamic State group’s purported leader in Southeast Asia. The militant is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists, with a US$5 million bounty on his head.

His whereabouts are the subject of intelligence reports the military continues to try to verify.

Displaced residents would be allowed to go back to cleared areas of the city, with the government assisting in the rebuilding of their homes, and to other areas as soon as the fighting stops, Lorenzana said.

However, about 1,500 homes still need to be cleared of explosives and soldiers are able to clear only 70 to 100 homes a day, he said.

The rebuilding of the city’s business district might also take more time and funds because it has been badly damaged by government airstrikes on the attackers’ positions and the militant’s torching of buildings and houses.

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