MANILA - At least 6 foreign terrorists remain holed up in the strife-torn city of Marawi, as government troops make a final push to end the siege that has gripped the city for nearly five months, a military official said Tuesday.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla Jr. said 6 to 8 foreign terrorists, mostly Indonesians and Malaysians, are among the estimated 30 terrorists who are still in the 2-hectare battle area in the city.
Padilla said the most prominent among the remaining terrorists in Marawi City is Malaysian professor-turned-terrorist Mahmoud Ahmad, known to be the Filipino terrorists’ financier and link to the IS leadership in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, some 20 hostages remain in the hands of the terrorists, Padilla said.
The military has declared the hostilities in Marawi will soon be over, following the deaths of terrorist leaders Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf head Isnilon Hapilon.
In a news conference, Padilla said the killing of the two terrorist leaders “does not signal the end of the hostilities nor the end of the fighting in Marawi because there still remains to this date a space occupied by armed elements and the existence of hostages.”
“Our troops have remained in the battle area continuing to pursue the armed elements and seeking to rescue the remaining hostages in about two hectares of space that remains to be the battle area,” he added.
Omar was one of the two leaders of the Maute Group, along with his brother Abdullah, who was reported to have been killed in August.
Hapilon, on the other hand, had been considered the “emir” of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Southeast Asia.
Hapilon’s death is considered a big blow to the Islamic State’s ambitions in Southeast Asia, but security analysts say the terror threat in the region is far from over, warning that a possible retaliatory attack from the militants may occur.
The killing of Hapilon has also left a leadership void for the terror group, and both Padilla and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it remains unclear whether Mahmud will take over his post.
Meanwhile, Padilla said Marawi residents would not be allowed to immediately go back to their homes even if the last terrorist is neutralized. He said this is to avoid deaths from improvised bombs scattered in some parts of the city.
“After all, having survived several months in evacuations centers, it would be [ironic] if upon the return of a resident in Marawi, they would suffer because of an IED that was left,” Padilla said.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella appealed to the remaining terrorists to surrender.
“With terrorist leaders gone, we call on all fighters to cease further resistance and violence and return to the road of peace,” Abella said.
“This is also the call of our Muslim leaders, our imams, ARMM, MNLF, MILF chiefs, and the leaders of Muslim nations and this is the plea of your families, friends, and communities. Let us restore peace and rebuild our land.”
The Marawi siege is considered as the biggest internal security crisis in the Philippines for years, triggering concerns in the region of the spreading of Islamic State’s ideology. Padilla also noted that the battle in the predominantly Muslim city is the longest one to take place in the Philippines since the second World War.