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It’s all over in Marawi

By Ben Cal

Philippines News Agency 

MANILA. The government declared the Marawi siege over on Oct. 23, five months after a well-prepared Islamic State-inspired terror group occupied the city, and days after soldiers killed its top leaders Isnilon Hapilon, who’s on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, his deputy Omar Maute and Malaysian bomb-maker Mahmud Ahmad.

In the end, the fighting was reduced to the shell of two buildings and a mosque where fanatics of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf band which has pledged allegiance to ISIS made their last stand. The bodies of 40 of those fighters and two of their wives were found there on the morning of the final day of the siege.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte thanked the United States, Australia, Singapore and China for providing technical support and weaponry, and said the conflict would be a catalyst for closer international cooperation against extremism.  

After over 150 days of close quarter fighting, the Maute terror group suffered nearly 900 dead while the military sustained 162 killed.

During the same period, the military rescued 1,771 civilians held hostage by Maute terrorists. The military also recovered 837 high-powered firearms in the main battle area.

There were 17 hostages, including a two-month child rescued by soldiers during the fighting.

Both Hapilon and Maute were killed by AFP snipers, giving them a dose of their own medicine as most of the soldiers killed in action were victims of terrorists’ sniping. 

The gun battle has been confined right at the city’s once bustling business district which is now in ruins. 

The 51-year old Hapilon, the “emir” anointed of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, was killed while trying to flee to another building in the area. He was armed with an M4 automatic rifle when he was killed. 

On the other hand, Maute was killed by an army sniper while fleeing with Hapilon and other terrorists and their hostages at the height of the fighting between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. last Oct. 13 (Friday the 13th).

Año said the military has a hard time crushing the Mautes holed up in the city because soldiers have to be extra careful not to hit civilians held hostage by the terrorists.

The hostages, including women and children were used by the terrorists as human shields, preventing the soldiers from an all-out offensive.

Año also said that had there been no hostages, the fighting could have been ended in a few days.

But he said the military values innocent human lives, hence the counter-offensive is carefully planned so that no hostages would be hit in the crossfire. 

During the initial stage of the fighting, some 900 Maute terrorists occupied the city of Marawi last May 23 this year when a military-police team tried to serve a warrant of arrest on Hapilon, who was reported to be hiding in the area.

By all indication, the Mautes had long prepared to fight the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) as the terror group has secretly stored high-powered weapons, ammunition, bombs and improvised explosive devices (IED) the past months or even years without being detected by military and police intelligence units, apparently because of the connivance of civilian-sympathizers in Marawi.

The terrorists also utilized the underground tunnels constructed by wealthy residents as part of their security measure in case a “rido” (family feud) erupts which is common among Muslim communities.

During the assault Monday dawn, the military launched the operation following reports given by an informer that Hapilon and Omar Maute were holed up in one of the buildings in the main battle area.

The United States had put up a $5 million prize on Hapilon for his capture dead or alive, while the Philippine government offered another $200,000.

Hapilon was involved in the kidnapping of 20 tourists, including three Americans in Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan on May 27, 2001. 

The three American held hostages by the Abu Sayyaf were Guillermo Sobero, Martin Burnham and his wife, Gracia, an American missionary couple. 

But on June 11, 2001, Sobero was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf. His execution was announced by Abu Sabaya, the Abu Sayyaf spokesman, as a “birthday present” to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Sabaya was later killed in a running sea gun battle with government forces off the coast of Basilan Island in southern Philippines.

In June 2002, Martin Burnham died in the crossfire between government forces and the Abu Sayyaf during a rescue operation in Basilan. Gracia Burnham was wounded during the fighting but soldiers rescued her.

It was this kidnapping incident that Hapilon was indicted in the District of Columbia for kidnapping involving US nationals. Since the Dos Palmas abduction, Hapilon and other terrorists were the object of massive manhunt by Philippine military and police forces.


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