MANILA • The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed that the DNA sample from a body recovered in Marawi matched that of ISIS' (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) top man in South-east Asia Isnilon Hapilon, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.
A top Philippine military commander also said only 20 insurgents remained in a small area in Marawi City, including five "significant" figures, and three battalions of troops were closing in on their positions.
"We have received an official report that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that the DNA sample taken from a body recovered by our operating units in Marawi matches that of Isnilon Hapilon," Mr Lorenzana said in a statement. "This process of verification is also being conducted on the cadavers of the other terrorists that have been recovered so far."
Hapilon was killed together with the Maute terror group leader Omarkhayam Maute in a four-hour clash with government troops early on Tuesday morning. The death of the duo, who plotted and led the attack on Marawi on May 23, signalled the end of the city's siege after nearly five months of fighting. Both had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Lieutenant-General Carlito Galvez yesterday said troops are -zeroing in on three of Hapilon's sons and two Malaysians, including Amin Baco, who has been central to facilitating the movement of foreign fighters in the region.
He added that the country was preparing to declare the end of fighting in Marawi as troops continued a phased withdrawal from the city.
"We cannot say our mission is totally accomplished or completed if the five persons are still there," he said, adding that the remaining militants are "struggling to survive" and to protect their shrinking position.
The military is concerned that Hapilon's sons and these foreign fighters could succeed core leaders of the alliance killed this week.
Another militant, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, who experts say may have funded the siege, was also killed in the battle, according to a freed hostage, but his body has yet to be found. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had been quoted by local media on Thursday saying that Mahmud had been killed.
The Malaysian police yesterday said they were ready to release DNA samples if requested to do so by the Philippine government to aid confirmation of his death. The police said they had already taken the preliminary measure of obtaining DNA samples from Mahmud's family members.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein warned at a conference that the country could not afford to rest on its laurels even though the Philippines had reported his death, as there would be other militants who will emerge to take his place.
"If it was true that Mahmud was killed in the battle, it would not change anything," he said on Friday. "The militant threat will continue if it is not dealt with."
THE STAR, THE PHILIPPINE INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS, BERNAMA