From Rappler (Jun 24): Isnilon Hapilon may have fled Marawi City – army
(UPDATED) 'We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere,' says Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the Western Mindanao Command
(UPDATED) – Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon may have escaped the now one-month battle between the army and Maute group in Marawi City, a senior military official said on Saturday, June 24.
Hapilon, said to be the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Southeast Asia, has not been seen in the battle zone in Marawi City, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military's Western Mindanao Command.
An attempt by government troops to arrest Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered a rampage by Maute terrorists flying black IS flags who seized parts of the mainly Muslim city. (READ: 1 month of Marawi clashes: Death toll now at 375)
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Marawi and the entire southern region of Mindanao, unleashing an offensive to crush what he said was an attempt by the jihadist group to establish a province in the area.
"He (Hapilon) has not been seen in the area. We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere but as of now we are still confirming the reports," Galvez said in an interview on radio dzBB.
Asked if Hapilon was on the run, he said: "Yes, yes because reportedly he suffered a lot of casualties. Majority of his group, more than half, were casualties." (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)
Hapilon was indicted in the US for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of 3 Americans in the Philippines, and has a $5-million bounty on his head from the US government, which has his name on its "most wanted" terror list.
He leads a faction of the Abu Sayyaf that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Security analysts say he has been recognized by ISIS as its "emir," or leader, in Southeast Asia, a region where the group wants to establish a caliphate.
The military says Hapilon's group had joined forces with the Maute Group, to launch the Marawi siege.
On Saturday, security forces continued intense air raids and artillery fire on pockets of Marawi still occupied by the terrorists, while troops fought house-to-house gunbattles on the ground.
"The operation is going on, the firefights are intense. We have gained substantial ground," said Galvez, the military commander.
Nearly 300 militants and 67 government troops have been killed in the fighting, according to official figures.
Galvez said there are "strong indications" that two or three of the Maute brothers – among the key players in the siege – had been killed, including Omar Maute, believed to be the group's top leader.
Only one brother, Abdullah, has been visible in the fighting, Galvez added.
Press reports also quoted military chief General Eduardo Año as saying that Malaysian Mahmud bin Ahmad, who helped lead and finance the Marawi siege, is believed to have been killed, although his body has not been retrieved.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Saturday said the military "is validating" the intelligence report that Mahmud "died from wounds he sustained during the early days of the Marawi rebellion."
"We have been told that the military has information of the spot where he was buried and government troops are now trying to locate it and recover the remains. Once done, only then can we make an official confirmation," Abella said.
When asked about Mahmud's reported death, Malaysia's Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told Agence France-Presse in a text message in Kuala Lumpur: "Not true. He is still alive."