By Aaron B. Recuenco
A Malaysian militant is believed to be among 20 Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists killed in a fierce gun battle with elite government troops, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said Thursday.
Año said the gunfight, which started Wednesday till the early morning of Thursday, also resulted in the rescue of some hostages, including a mother and her 15-year-old daughter.
It was the rescued hostages who told the military that Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Dr. Mahmud Ahmad was among those killed, but officials said they have to confirm the information first.
“Our operations to flush out and deal with terrorist stragglers have been continuing relentlessly since yesterday (Wednesday). Last night’s (Wednesday) operations have been very positive. We were able to neutralize 13 rebels and we confirmed this. Early this morning, we were able to get seven more,” said Año, who added that six soldiers were wounded.
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao, said the bodies of the 13 slain terrorists have yet to be retrieved from the scene of the gunfight, reason the military could not immediately confirm if Mahmud is among them.
“The 13 killed include those sniper kills. That means that they were in the defensive position but they were hit by snipers so we cannot yet penetrate that defensive position,” said Brawner.
Mahmud, also known as Abu Handzalah, is said to be the successor of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon as designated emir of the caliphate that is being planned to be established by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Southeast Asia. He is a close associate of Hapilon and funded the Marawi siege, the military said.
Año said that based on the information they received, there are still about 20 remaining hostages under the clutches of the remaining Maute fighters inside Marawi City.
But the military could not give exact details of the remaining numbers of the Maute gunmen they are battling to totally liberate Marawi City, though President Duterte has already declared the liberation of the city with the death of Hapilon and Omar Maute, two top leaders of the militants who occupied city.
Brawner said that although they could not give the exact number of remaining enemies, he said the information given by the freed hostages are very valuable in their operational planning.
Earlier, it was the rescued hostages who reportedly pinpointed the exact location of Hapilon and Maute, which prompted the military to map out the successful operation to kill them.
“We are still trying to determine the remaining number… there was initial information by the hostages as to how many but not all enemies can be seen,” said Brawner.
As of Thursday, Brawner said there is still resistance from the Maute gunmen, an indication that there are still remaining fighters putting up a fight.
“There is still resistance. In fact, we can still hear gunshots from the main battle area,” said Brawner.
The official said the resistance being shown by the remaining Maute gunmen is organized. But he said the remaining battle zone is less than a hectare.
The Marawi siege, it was recalled, started as an operation to capture Hapilon who was monitored to be in the area on May 23.
The operation yielded negative but it triggered attacks by the Maute forces. The Maute gunmen were later joined by local sympathizers and even foreigners.
Meanwhile, the Philippines will start issuing Marawi bonds starting January, 2018, to finance the rehabilitation of the war-torn city, Malacañang said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, during a Palace press briefing, said Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary Benjamin Diokno confirmed this development.
Abella also noted that Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has directed the Bureau of Treasury to study the possible issuance of P30 billion in bonds after the President originally committed at least P20 billion to rehabilitate Marawi.
“The President has committed ample funds to rebuild Marawi and the January bonds will ensure that this pledge is fulfilled,” Abella said Thursday morning.
According to the Palace official, the Philippine government is hoping to tap local and global markets, as well as Islamic investors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Middle East.
Abella also assured transparency in the rehabilitation, rebuilding, and reconstruction of Marawi City.
“In this rebuilding, all outlay will be tracked and be posted online and we look with anticipation on the rising of Marawi,” he said.
Diokno had earlier said that the DBM has already committed P5 billion for the rehabilitation of Marawi City. But he said the government needs to finalize first the rehabilitation plan. (With a report from Argyll B. Geducos)