Philippines Army says Islamists making 'last stand' in Marawi


The Philippine military chief says he expects other pro-Islamic State group extremist bands in the country's south "to crumble" following the killing of two militant leaders, including one of Asia's top terror suspects.

Last year, Hapilon - who headed a major faction of Abu Sayyaf - was designated by ISIS as the terrorist organization's emir for Southeast Asia and commander of the so-called Brigade of the Migrant based on the southern island of Mindanao and made up of fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Lorenzana said the killings of Hapilon and Maute mean that the Marawi conflict will be over soon and that the government will soon announce the "termination of hostilities in a couple of days".

"We will announce the termination of hostilities once the government forces have ensured that there are no more terrorists-stragglers in the city and we have cleared all structures of improvised explosive devices and other traps", Lorenzana said.

The FBI had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading directly to Hapilon's apprehension or conviction for a litany of alleged crimes, including hostage taking, murder, and terrorist activities.

He said the battle for Marawi could be over imminently, adding that 17 hostages were rescued this morning.

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"We were supposed to go to Marawi today with the President but we were advised by ground commanders not to go because they will conduct the assault this morning", the defence minister was quoted by the Philippines Star as saying. The military said Hapilon and the Maute brothers plotted the Marawi siege on May 23.

A top Malaysian militant, Mahmud bin Ahmad, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Handzalah and is a close associate of Hapilon, has not been found and was among the remaining militants being hunted by troops, he said.

Lorenzana said there are still around "21 or 22" hostages held by the terrorists. Since that date, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 400,000 residents were displaced. A total of 824 Maute terrorists, 167 soldiers, and 47 civilians have been killed in nearly five months of gunbatlles.

"After the fighting stops, we will refocus our efforts on the challenging task of rebuilding and rehabilitating Marawi", said Lorenzana, also head of Task Force Bangon Marawi. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south, scene of decades-old Muslim separatist uprising, to deal with the siege, the worst crisis he has faced since rising to power in June a year ago.

Lorenzana said martial law will not be lifted yet.

It will take billions of pesos to rebuild the ruined city, according to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who said that the extent of destruction is far greater than expected.