MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday said top Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon remains holed up in Marawi City, where his comrades are now on a rampage.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said Hapilon’s presence strengthens terrorists' defense, even as the military earlier said the rebels were running low on ammunition and food.
“Sa ngayon, may impormasyon at naniniwala kami na nariyan pa siya at maaaring ito ang dahilan kaya ang pag-depensa sa mga ilang lugar ay nagiging matindi. So ‘yun lang po ang masasabi ko sa ngayon,” Padilla said in a news briefing in Malacañang.
“Nasa interes po ng bayan, nasa interes po ng bawat mamamayan ng Marawi na makuha po siya.”
The elusive Hapilon, an Islamic preacher who holds an engineering degree, carries a $5 million bounty due to his involvement in the abduction of American citizens from a resort in 2001. He was also accused of beheading an American.
Hapilon had a close call in January this year when government troops pounded his lair and killed 15 militants.
Clashes between government troops and Islamist militants erupted in Marawi City last Tuesday following a failed attempt to arrest Hapilon at an apartment in Barangay Basak Malutlut.
The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to put Mindanao under martial law.
In explaining his move to Congress, which has the power to overturn his martial law proclamation, Duterte cited the terrorists’ goal of taking over Mindanao and establishing an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
Hapilon has been designated leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, but Philippine military officials say the infamous terror group has yet to recognize the Filipino rebels as members.
“The group has been fighting for recognition and membership ito ISIS and there are certain parameters that they have to fulfill. They have been trying to fulfill that,” Padilla said.
At least 61 Maute members have died in the nearly one-week old clash, while the government side suffered 20 casualties. Nineteen civilians lost their lives in the clash.