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Troops rescue 21 in Marawi

HERO’S WELCOME Private First Class John Peralta gets a big hug from son Yhuan as the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division arrives from Marawi at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City after President Duterte’s declaration of the Islamic city’s liberation. —RICHARD A. REYES

MARAWI CITY—Government troops have rescued 21 people from the battle zone in Marawi City as they continued pursuing remnants of the pro-Islamic State (IS) fighters following the deaths of three key militant leaders, the military said on Friday.

Ten of those rescued from the battlefield on Thursday were confirmed to have been held hostage by the militants, while the rest would still undergo assessment and validation, the military said.

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In Manila, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the 11 others were being processed to check whether they were IS fighters.

Brig. Gen. Roseller Murillo, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Marawi, said those confirmed to be former hostages were six children and four women who ran toward soldiers during a gunfight while waving a white cloth to signify they were noncombatants.

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They were undergoing debriefing and medical examination, he said.

Murillo said the operation inside the main battle area was intended to finish off IS stragglers, but did not say how many of them were left.

“The force and alliance of the remaining fighters are already insignificant but we have to finish them all,” Murillo said.

The top two leaders of the group, Isnilon Hapilon, the IS group’s “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute, were killed in a dawn raid on Monday.

The following day, President Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi.

GUN SALUTE The family of a returning soldier welcomes their hero with posters and flags at Villamor Air Base. —RICHARD A. REYES

The would-be successor to Hapilon and their group’s suspected financier, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, was believed to be among 13 fighters who were killed on Wednesday.

Hapilon carried a $5-million reward on his head from the United States, while Maute, one of two brothers at the helm of the Maute terrorist clan of Lanao del Sur province, had a P5-million bounty from the government.

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“Our troops are continuing their assault,” Army Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said on Thursday after his news conference was disrupted by loud explosions reverberating from the final area of battle, about 2 kilometers away.

While troops pressed their assault with artillery and gunfire, officers used loudspeakers to urge the militants, many of them positioned in a bullet-pocked two-story building, to surrender. The building stands on a pier by the lake near a huge gunfire-scarred welcome sign that says “I (love) Marawi.”

The surprise occupation of the city by local pro-IS groups backed by foreign fighters set off alarms in Southeast Asia. Analysts said parts of the southern Philippines were at risk of becoming a new base for IS as it lost territory to international forces in Iraq and Syria.

Padilla, however, told a briefing in Malacañang that following its defeat in Syria and its allies thwarted from putting up a “wilayah,” or IS province, in Marawi, the influence of the IS group would continue to wane.

The terrorists could still launch strikes, including lone wolf attacks, Padilla warned.

“So by and large, there still remains a threat from this group, but not in the magnitude that we have seen in the Middle East nor in the scale by which we have confronted in Marawi. This is our assessment,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND AP

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TAGS: Armed Forces of the Philippines, Marawi, Philippine news updates, Terrorism
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