Officials in the Philippines have confirmed the deaths of the leaders of the nation’s two Islamic State affiliates, Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf and Omar Maute of the Maute group, in the besieged would-be “caliphate” capital of Marawi.
President Rodrigo Duterte has kept Mindanao, the island containing Marawi, under a martial law declaration since May, when a raid on Hapilon’s suspected hideout triggered an influx of jihadists to the city and a siege to establish a caliphate in the nation that is more than 90 percent Christian. The FBI had placed Hapilon on its Most Wanted Terrorist list, offering up to $5 million for information on his whereabouts.
Philippine officials have clarified that they will not yet lift the martial law declaration on the island, citing the need to eradicate residual Islamic State elements on the island. Unlike past presidents, Duterte has chosen to live on his native Mindanao, which also elevates the need for heightened security there.
We have received a report from [Armed Forces of the Philippines] ground commanders in Marawi that the operation conducted by government forces to retake the last remaining Daesh-Maute stronghold in the city has resulted in the death of the last terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, and that their bodies have been recovered by our operating units.
The Philippine Star published photos they claim they attained from a military source reportedly showing the bodies in question. Another Philippine outlet, ABS-CBN, reported that Omar Maute died “after he was hit on the head by sniper fire,” citing Philippine armed forces chief Eduardo Año. Both appeared to be attempting to move into a new building when soldiers saw them outside and shot them dead.
Lorenzana noted that the government would DNA-test the bodies in question to fully verify that they have killed the right people – and to ensure that they qualify for rewards from agencies like the FBI. “Yes they will be subjected to DNA test because there are rewards coming from (a) foreign country and also from us,” Lorenzana said. “I think Maute has a P5 million reward on his head, Isnilon has a $5 million reward on his head plus another P10 million yata from the government, so it’s a huge money.”
The defense chief added that the military also rescued 17 hostages in the process of eliminating Maute and Hapilon. One of those hostages, identified only as a woman, reportedly managed to send a message to Philippine troops revealing the whereabouts of the two terror chiefs. He noted that the Maute group may continue to operate in other parts of the island, thus necessitating the continued martial law state.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, an Army spokesman, confirmed that up to 100 hostages remain trapped in Marawi. Prior to the beginning of the siege in May, Marawi was home to 200,000 people, most of whom have evacuated in light of the Islamic State insurgency.
While the raid that began the siege of Marawi was intended to capture Hapilon, many of the jihadis fighting for the city are members of the Maute group. Named after the family organizing and financing it, Maute has built a reputation for waging jihad using child soldiers recruited by promising their poor Muslims parents free Islamic education. Once taken from their homes with that promise, the children are placed in terrorist training camps and indoctrinated.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself has not commented on the killings, but Communications Secretary Martin Andanar issued a statement congratulating the military. “This clear victory against terrorism proves the Duterte administration’s resoluteness in delivering on its promise of peace and prosperity to the people of Mindanao,” he said. Duterte recently predicted the end of the Marawi siege by December.