US troops inspect IS dead
MARAWI CITY — US soldiers had joined Philippine police forensics teams in checking some of the bodies of fatalities in the ongoing war on terror here to help identify foreigners who fought alongside members of two homegrown groups that sought to establish an Islamic State (IS) province in this predominantly Muslim city.
The clashes escalated into a full-blown war on May 23 when soldiers and policemen tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged head of IS in Mindanao.
Philippine security forces, however, were met by scores of gunmen belonging to the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf, local terror groups that had affiliated with IS. Foreigners were seen fighting alongside the local terrorists.
Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista, Philippine Army 1st Division and Joint Task Force Marawi commander, last week told Inquirer that at least 10 foreign terrorists, mostly Malaysians and Indonesians, were still in the war zone.
On Monday, at least four US agents joined members of the Philippine police’s Scene of Crime Operations (Soco) agents who were conducting postmortem examination on 40 bodies being kept at Capin Funeral Home in Iligan City.
Senior Supt. Mary Leocy Mag-abo, head of the Soco team now based in Iligan, said “the US forces are interested to determine and know the possibilities that there are foreign terrorists, aside from Maute fighters, who fought and were killed by the military in Marawi City.”
The retrieval of bodies in the war zone continued even as soldiers have yet to wrap up clearing operations against the terrorists.
Zia Adiong, Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee spokesperson, said teams retrieving the bodies were being careful to preserve pieces of evidence that could be used in the future either to identify the dead or file criminal charges against those involved in the terrorist occupation of the city.
“We treat the area not only as a battle area but also a crime scene,” Adiong said.
He said bodies were being brought to Capin for forensic tests.
Since day one of the war on May 23, Adiong said 105 bodies and skeletal remains had been retrieved. Most were those of Maute gunmen.
A funeral home owner in Iligan, however, said he had counted 114 bodies being brought to his morgue since the start of the fighting.
He said 11 of the dead brought to his funeral home had been buried in Iligan in June. At least 54 were buried in the Maqbarah, or Muslim cemetery, in Iligan.
Adiong said 40 skeletal remains and bodies in advanced states of decomposition were still in Capin. Fifteen of these were scheduled for burial this week, he said.
Of the 40 remains, according to Adiong, two were found in a shallow grave in the village of Norhaya here on Sept. 29. Their identities have not been determined.
Mag-abo, the Soco team head, said her team had conducted an autopsy on 25 bodies from the villages of Bangolo, Sabala Manao, Datu sa Dansalan and on two from the village of Norhaya.
She said DNA samples were collected from the bodies for future reference. —Allan Nawal and Richel Umel