MANILA - Troops are searching for the remains of the alleged new leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia who was reportedly killed in Marawi, an official said Tuesday.
Amin Baco, who reportedly replaced slain terrorist Isnilon Hapilon as IS emir, may have been among those killed in clearing operations in Marawi, the military earlier said.
"Iyung mga bangkay po ay dahan-dahan nating ina-identify. Kasama po natin dito ang SOCO nang sa gayon ay matiyak natin kung isa rito sa mga bangkay na ito ay bangkay po ni Amin Baco," Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao, told radio DZMM.
(We are slowly identifying recovered remains, with the help of police Scene of the Crime Operatives so we can determine if Amin Baco's corpse is among them.)
Experts say Baco was trained under Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in 2015 in a clash that left 44 police commandos dead in Maguindanao province.
The information that Baco had assumed the role of IS point man came from an Indonesian arrested in Marawi last week, the Philippine National Police said.
Brawner said the Indonesian may have been arrested before Baco's alleged death.
British news agency Reuters however reported that Baco has fled Marawi.
"He could be somewhere on Jolo island or in nearby Maguindanao," an army colonel familiar with Islamist militant groups in Mindanao, told Reuters.
He said Baco had been in the Philippines for a long time and had links with regional extremist group Jemaah Islamiah. He was married to a daughter of a local militant sub-leader.
As early as 2011, he was facilitating movements into the Philippines of funds, arms and fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia, but his links to the IS network were not known to be strong, another military intelligence official said.
He said Baco was in a position to take over because of his familiarity with extremists from various groups in Mindanao.
Authorities are searching for IS sympathizers who may be hiding in the ruins and tunnels of Marawi, Brawner said.
More than 1,100 people - mostly militants - were killed by the Marawi unrest, a crisis that shocked predominantly Catholic Philippines and led to unease about IS gaining traction in Muslim parts of the island of Mindanao.
Some 25,000 of the 350,000 displaced have returned to their homes, said Brawner. With Reuters