Soldier Dead, 3 Wounded as Troops Battle IS Stragglers in Marawi

Richel V. Umel
Marawi, Philippines
171020_PH_Marawi_bodies_620.jpg Filipino soldiers recover the bodies of slain IS militants in the war-torn city of Marawi, in the southern Philippines, Oct. 20, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

A soldier was killed and at least three others were wounded as Philippine troops advanced Friday to enemy-controlled areas in the southern city of Marawi, where the Islamic State’s Southeast Asian leaders were slain this week.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the enemy fighters were on their last legs and demoralized after the successive deaths this week of IS regional chief Isnilon Hapilon and his Malaysian deputy, Mahmud Ahmad.

He said that on the 151st day of the siege, 897 militants had been killed – a significant jump from 840 that was last updated days earlier, largely because the casualty figures kept changing with reports on the ground continually coming in.

The number of civilian casualties, however, has been constant at 47, while troop deaths were recorded at 161. Officials said 1,777 civilians, who were either held as hostages or trapped in the crossfire, had been rescued since hostilities broke out on May 23.

“I am sad to inform you that in the process of clearing the remaining areas where stragglers from the rebel group remains, we incurred another casualty, with one of our soldiers dying in one of the assaults that was conducted yesterday,” Padilla said.

“We also suffered a few wounded, around three of them, but thank God these are not life-threatening and they are all safe,” he said.

Among the enemy casualties in heavy exchange of gunfire since Wednesday night was Mahmud Ahmad, a former Malaysian university professor who bankrolled the Marawi siege.

Mahmud took the reins of the militant leadership after Hapilon was killed in an assault earlier this week with Omarkhayam Maute, leader of the Maute gang.

“He (Mahmud) died during the assault of our troops the other day – or the other night, where 12 other rebels died,” Padilla said.

But, he said, troops still had to recover the body of Mahmud, an academic who had been radicalized in the Middle East.

More hostages freed

Padilla said that at least 10 hostages were freed Friday morning, on top of the 11 who were rescued Thursday. Officials said they were still checking if there were still hostages left with the remaining gunmen, believed to number about 20, including fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia.

All the freed hostages were being “processed” or debriefed “to ascertain whether they are truly hostages or a member of the rebel group,” Padilla said.

“May I also announce to the public that as we see the endgame of the armed hostilities inside Marawi, we will be shifting our forces to other areas for their required training and for their scheduled battalion or unit activities,” Padilla said.

One of the first units to arrive in Marawi in the first week of the fighting left the destroyed city Friday morning.

The 1st Infantry Battalion was assigned near one of the bridges that lead to the heart of the city. They had been engaged in some of the fiercest fighting the past five months to hold off the enemy from crossing the Agus River that bisects the city.

“They were responsible for the successful and safe rescue of 34 hostages during one of the heights of our campaign. The unit also suffered several wounded and one killed,” Padilla said.

Marawi’s 200,000 residents displaced by the fighting are not yet allowed to return home, largely because the military said they were still clearing many areas where the gunmen had left many improvised bombs.

“We are actually leaving other units to ensure the continuity of security coverage even during the process of the rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding of Marawi,” Padilla said.

“We are asking for everyone’s patience and understanding as we search and clear the areas of bombs that did not explode or booby traps that were left behind,” he said.

The active conflict area has been reduced to about half a hectare, where enemy stragglers could be hiding in some buildings and structures that were left still standing.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Friday also confirmed Mahmud’s death.

“The neutralization of the former university lecturer-turned-second-in-command to Isnilon Hapilon is a significant blow to the Daesh-inspired terrorist groups in Mindanao and a major breakthrough for the total liberation of Marawi city,” Abella said, using the other name of IS.

A video released by military officials in June showed the low-key Mahmud plotting the attack with Hapilon and several men.

Philippine intelligence officials had said that Mahmud funneled more than 30 million pesos (about $600,000) from IS, the global terror network, to Hapilon’s group, enabling them to purchase firearms, food and other supplies that allowed them to dig in.

Mahmud, believed to be in his late 30s to early 40s, trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s while studying at Islamabad Islamic University in Pakistan. He is a former lecturer of Islamic studies at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, one of Malaysia’s top universities.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this story.


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