Amid the sound of continuing gunfire, President Duterte declared Marawi City “liberated from terrorists’ influence” today (Tuesday, October 17).
The president led rain-soaked troops in celebration just a day after the deaths of terror leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. were announced.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi liberated from the terrorists’ influence that marks the beginning of the rehabilitation,” he said, as explosions and gunfire were heard coming from the city.
Military sources later clarified that the fighting no more than 30 remaining Islamic State-affiliated militants was continuing alongside efforts to rescue about 20 hostages.
“We are going to get them very soon,” deputy commander Romeo Brawner said. “We’re making sure no hostages and fighters are left.”
Asked by reporters if the president’s declaration was symbolic, Col. Brawner said: “Yes, because we cannot really say that the area is 100 per cent cleared because even when they declared the end of World War II, there were still stragglers.”
Philippine troops are continuing to hunt down a Malaysian called Mahmud Ahmad, who is tipped to take on the leadership of IS in Southeast Asia following Hapilon’s death.
The former university lecturer, aged 39, was in charge of raising finances and recruits from abroad for the siege of Marawi.
Although military sources believe he is still inside the city, Malaysian police believe he sneaked out of the city months ago.
Islamists occupied parts of Marawi, the largest Muslim-majority city in the Philippines, on May 23 following a foiled attempt to arrest Hapilon.
An estimated 822 terrorists, at least 47 civilians and 163 government personnel have been killed in the fighting. Up to half a million civilians have been displaced.
Insurgents endured a relentless US-backed bombing campaign and intense ground battles in the nation’s longest urban conflict since World War II.
It is believed the Islamists were aiming to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate as the noose closes in on IS in the Middle East.