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Clear Marawi of terrorists before SONA, military told

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answers questions during a press briefing held in Malacanang on ceasefire between the government and the CPP,NDF,NPA. INQUIRER PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/JOAN BONDOC

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has asked military commanders in Marawi to clear the city of terrorists before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (Sona) before a joint session of Congress on July 24.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Lorenzana said he wanted the fighting to end before then so that Mr. Duterte could announce his plans for the rehabilitation of Marawi in his report to Congress.

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Lorenzana said 1,500 houses and buildings in the city still needed to be cleared of Maute terrorists and their Abu Sayyaf allies.

“And at the rate of clearing of 70 to 100 houses per day, it will take them some time to clear the area,” he said.

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Hapilon hiding in mosque

According to Lorenzana, one of the leaders of the terrorists, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria, is still in the city.

“According to our latest information, he’s still inside Marawi. In fact, there is an information we got this morning that he’s hiding in one of the mosques there,” Lorenzana said.

He said government informants had been watching for Hapilon’s arrival at the Abu Sayyaf stronghold on Basilan Island but had not seen him there.

Hapilon was not among three fighters from Marawi who arrived in Basilan a week ago, Lorenzana said.

“So, we believe that he is still in Marawi,” he added.

Lorenzana said Basilan locals were providing information to the military about Hapilon.

$5-M bounty

“The Yakans know that there is a $5-million price on the head of Hapilon, and it’s very tempting for them also to give us accurate report on his whereabouts so that they will also, maybe get some of the money,” he said.

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The $5-million bounty is offered by the US government.

Lorenzana said the military was having a hard time clearing Marawi of terrorists because the troops were used to jungle warfare, not to urban fighting.

“This kind of problem is very difficult … it is urban fighting, which a lot of our troops there are not prepared … They are learning as they go along on how to fight in this built-up area,” he said.

“If I were there, I would like the job to be finished immediately. [But] the enemy is also very wily and very resourceful,” he added.

Lorenzana said the military had casualties from the 10th Infantry Battalion last week because the troops advanced in an effort to secure more ground without knowing there were still terrorists in some of the houses they left behind.

“They were so aggressive to finish the job. They were able to go, go, go without knowing that the houses that they left behind still had (terrorists). So … they were shot in the back,” he said.

“They had to go back and clear the houses again. So this is a big challenge. We have also to give maybe leeway to our troops to do what they want to do there,” he added.

Malacañang said that as of July 2, 452 people had died in the fighting in Marawi, including 336 terrorists, 84 soldiers and policemen, and 32 civilians.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said government troops had rescued 1,717 civilians and recovered 402 high-powered firearms. —With a report from AP

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TAGS: abu sayyaf, Delfin Lorenzana, Islamic State, Isnilon Hapilon, Marawi siege, Maute group, Mindanao martial law, Rodrigo Duterte, Sona
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