Hapilon’s chief aide slain as troops hound stragglers
MARAWI CITY—The right-hand man of slain Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and a still-unidentified member of the Maute group were killed on Wednesday night as government troops pressed their hunt for 39 or so terrorist stragglers hiding among the ruins of the main battle area here.
Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said that soldiers trying to clear the area chanced upon the two terrorists who opened fire.
He identified Hapilon’s chief aide as Abu Talha. Until his death, Hapilon was the Islamic State’s emir in Southeast Asia.
Another gunman managed to sneak out of the area and jump into a canal near the Grand Mosque at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday while a television news crew was filming the ruins in the company of Brawner.
Brawner told the Inquirer that ABS-CBN reporter Jeff Canoy “saw a person about 10 meters from their location” scoot past them, prompting him and three of his men to open fire at the man, who disappeared into what looked like a makeshift tunnel.
Soldiers killed another militant trying to escape the same area on Tuesday.
The encounter with Hapilon’s top lieutenant came days after the military and local government officials allowed the return of residents to their homes in areas already cleared of improvised explosive devices by Army sappers.
Killed with Maute
President Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi on Oct. 18, two days after Scout Rangers killed Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, one of the leaders of the Maute group, and freed at least 21 hostages.
Brawner, however, said that scores of militants, among them Indonesians and Malaysians, were still hiding in the battle zone next to Lake Lanao and would not surrender.
Brawner confirmed the presence of the large group of stragglers from Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, the 23-year-old Indonesian national captured on Wednesday by members of the Barangay Peace Action Team of Barangay Loksadatu while fleeing the battle zone.
“Based on the revelation of Indonesian militant that we arrested, around 39 stragglers are still hiding in the main battle zone, that’s why we are continuing our clearing operations,” he said.
Among those still trapped in the ruins, according to Brawner, were dependents of Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
“We have recently rescued children and wives of Maute (men). They are in the hands of our police who are investigating the extent of their involvement. We have information that some of them even underwent training (to fight),” he said.
Marawi police chief Supt. Ebra Moxir said Syahputra had already been flown to Manila and charged with rebellion, among other crimes.
Fighting erupted in Basak Malutlut village on May 23 as soldiers and policemen tried to arrest Hapilon in his hideout.
Hundreds of IS-inspired gunmen came to the aid of Hapilon and put the city under siege for five months.—JEOFFREY MAITEM AND DIVINA SUSON
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