AFP: Terrorist leaders in 500-square-meter pocket in Marawi
Brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, along with Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the “emir” of their Islamic State-inspired terrorist group, are trapped in a 500-square-meter pocket of Marawi as government forces prepare for a final assault that will end the three-month siege of the city, Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said on Tuesday.
“Our main goal is no way out, no way in for them … They said they wanted to go to heaven. So we will give them the chance to go to heaven,” Año told reporters, referring to the terrorists’ claim that their attack on Marawi was part of their commitment to their faith.
Tuesday was the 99th day of fierce fighting between government security forces and the terrorists, who seized parts of Marawi on May 23 to establish an enclave of the Middle East-based Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Southeast Asia.
Año offered no timetable for the retaking of Marawi, but he cited recent “developments and progress” in the campaign that indicated the end was near for the terrorists holed up in the city.
“Deliberately we are taking their strongholds, especially the Grand Islamic Mosque. We are happy to say that we were able to preserve it and we didn’t bomb it. We didn’t let soldiers go inside. In fact, services are now being conducted there. Our Muslim soldiers and policemen are able to offer prayers at the mosque,” Año said.
He also noted that on Monday, government forces intercepted terrorist reinforcements who tried to sneak into the battle zone through Lake Lanao.
Ten terrorists were killed in the fighting, and their boats sank in the lake.
Año said the military expected the terrorists to make a “last stand” so the troops were preparing for a big, final battle.
“We want to show (them) that anywhere they go, if they will attempt to reinforce or they will escape, we are ready to get them,” he said.
Nearly 800 people have been killed in the fighting that erupted on May 23, including 614 terrorists, 133 soldiers and police, and 45 civilians, according to the latest military count.
On Tuesday, Australia offered to help train the Philippine military to tackle IS-inspired terrorists.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she recently spoke to President Duterte, who wanted to bolster resources for his troops.
“We would be ready to support the Philippines in the same way we are supporting Iraq in advising, assisting and training,” Bishop said.
On Tuesday morning, Año led the send-off ceremonies for a 100-strong all-woman joint Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police Civil Relations Company (CRC), which was deployed to Marawi to assist in the rehabilitation and recovery efforts for evacuees, particularly the children.
The ceremonies were held at Villamor Air Base, headquarters of the Philippine Air Force, in Pasay City.
In his remarks at the ceremonies, Año said female soldiers and police officers had always been effective in civil relations.
Año said another company might be activated depending on the progress of the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.
All members of the contingent wore white hijabs as part of the cultural sensitivity of the mission, but the Catholic members of the company were also given rosaries by the military and police leadership.
“As you set foot in Marawi City may your white hijab with your uniform speak of solidarity and love for every Maranao, for every Muslim, for every Mindanaoan in the areas that you will be serving,” Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, founder of the Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement said in her address to the contingent.
The group trained in the AFP Civil Military Operations School for five days before being deployed to Marawi. —WITH A REPORT FROM AFP
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