MANILA - Foreign terrorists are taking over the assault in Marawi following the military strike that killed local leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the military said Tuesday.
Hapilon, Islamic State's anointed "emir" in Southeast Asia, died of a chest wound while Maute, one of 2 Middle East-educated "Khalifas" at the helm of the militant alliance, was shot in the head by a sniper in a nighttime operation, officials said Monday.
"May mga natira pa. We believe that there are about 8 ally na foreign terrorists na nand'yan sa loob at mukhang sila po ang nag-take over ng leadership," Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao, told DZMM.
(There are some remaining terrorists. We believe that there are about 8 allied foreign terrorists who are still in the battle area and who appear to have taken over the leadership.)
The military earlier said that fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East had bolstered the alliance between Maute fighters and Hapilon's Abu Sayyaf Group, which stormed Marawi last May 23.
Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian who allegedly helped put together the Islamic State-linked alliance, is reportedly still inside the main battle zone, military chief Gen. Eduardo Año said Monday.
Despite the presence of foreign terrorists, the government is confident that Marawi will soon be liberated as the fighting has been contained in a 1-hectare area whose entry and exit points have been sealed off, Brawner said.
He said the military is still looking for 18 to 20 hostages.
The military is also monitoring surrounding areas to stave off "sympathetic attacks" from other armed groups, said Brawner.
More than 300,000 Marawi residents have been displaced by the fighting, which authorities say has killed 824 rebels, 47 civilians and 162 troops.
The occupation has been the biggest internal security crisis in the Catholic-majority Philippines for years, compounding fears that Islamic State's extremist agenda and its advanced recruitment methods are more widespread than previously thought.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said security chiefs would assess whether to lift martial law in Mindanao. He said all cities on the island of 22 million people were vulnerable to attack, but authorities were vigilant. With Reuters