Wanted terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon still in thick of fight in Marawi, says Philippine military official

This screengrab taken from handout video released by the Philippine Army on June 18, 2017, shows Abdullah Maute (right) looking at an improvised map of Marawi, while Isnilon Hapilon (second, left), leader of hardline group Abu Sayyaf looks on, as the
This screengrab taken from handout video released by the Philippine Army on June 18, 2017, shows Abdullah Maute (right) looking at an improvised map of Marawi, while Isnilon Hapilon (second, left), leader of hardline group Abu Sayyaf looks on, as they plan an attack on Marawi at an undisclosed location on Mindanao island. PHOTO: AFP

MARAWI CITY (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -Wanted terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon is believed to have remained in the main battle area in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, contrary to earlier suspicions that he had fled the fighting, said a military official.

Hapilon is a veteran Filipino militant said to be the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in South-east Asia. A botched attempt by the Philippine government to arrest Hapilon in Marawi in May triggered the rampage by the ISIS-linked Islamist militants who have seized parts of the mainly Muslim city for months.

Asked during an interview with reporters on Wednesday (Aug 2) on the possible whereabouts of Hapilon, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt Gen Carlito Galvez Jr said the notorious Abu Sayyaf leader with a US$5 million (S$6.8 million) bounty from Washington was still fighting alongside members of the Maute group in the besieged city.

"He is still in the area," Lt Gen Galvez said, citing latest information the military had gathered.

In June, Galvez said there were indications Hapilon might have escaped the battle, adding that there was no sighting of him anymore.

There were also reports that Omarkhayyam Maute, one of the Maute siblings who led militants here, had been killed but these had not been validated so far.

Earlier this week, Capt Jo-Ann Petinglay, the military spokesman in Marawi, said they also received another report that a leader of the militants had been killed.

But Capt Petinglay said they could not say if it was Abdullah Maute, Omarkhayyam's brother.

The fighting, which, Lt Gen Galvez said, had so far killed 114 soldiers, was expected to be bloodier as the militants moved inside a shrinking territory.

But he said the military was determined to finish the job.

Gen Eduardo Año, the Armed Forces chief of staff, during a visit to soldiers at the battlefront on Wednesday, said the government was winning the battle against the ISIS-inspired militants.

"Just like in the game of basketball, we are already winning, but we should not rest on our laurels. We must be more motivated and more persistent. Many among our soldiers want to be here to help, but not everyone is given this rare chance to be here, to fight," Gen Año said during a visit to troops at the Kilala detachment inside the war zone.

His projection came after ground commanders presented him a brief of the situation, more than two months since the fighting began.

On Wednesday night, the military inserted more tanks, ammunition and brand new weapons in nearby Iligan city in support of ground troops fighting to flush out the remaining militants.

Iligan, located some 38km from Marawi, has been overflowing with evacuees fleeing the crisis in the city.