By Francis T. Wakefield and Genalyn D. Kabiling
Government troops are scouring the main battle area in Marawi City for more Maute Group stragglers, among them Malaysian terrorist bomb maker Amin Baco alias Jihad.
Colonel Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao said initially Baco was believed to have been killed in the bomb runs and ground assault. But his body is not among 42 terrorists killed, which included two women and foreign fighters during the final assault. Most of the bodies retrieved by soldiers in the main battle area were already in a state of decomposition.
Baco is a member of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
“We are still determining if Amin Baco is already dead or still alive.He is a Malaysian national, one of the foreign fighters who is part of the siege. We are still trying to find his body. We are also looking at the possibility that there are still foreign fighters who became stragglers in the area,” Brawner said.
On Wednesday, barangay peacekeepers arrested Indonesian terrorist Muhammad Ilham Syahputra while trying to escape from Ground Zero. While claiming to be a resident of Marawi, the Indonesian reportedly asked residents the way to Cagayan de Oro – a giveaway, which led to his arrest. Syahputra who fought alongside Maute fighters in Piagapo, Lanao Sur claimed he was invited by Abu Sayyaf kidnap leader IsnilonHapilon to join the terrorist group in November last year.
Syaputra claimed there are still about 36 militants holding out in Ground Zero.
Later on Wednesday, the stragglers engaged security forces that resulted in the killing of Abu Talja, a trusted aide of Hapilon and another straggler. Two soldiers were wounded in the gunfight.
There were no major engagements in the main battle since Thursday.
19 barangays ringed
Meanwhile, Armed Forces spokesperson Major Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said while clearing operation continues in the main battle area for a few holdouts, the announcement about the liberation of Marawi following the death of Islamic State-inspired leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute was not premature.
“No because the declaration of liberation was made when this had already no more bearing. Those stragglers who were left, they are leaderless, they have no direction,” Padilla replied when asked if the Marawi liberation was made too early.
“They are merely fighting for survival so they have no impact on the overall security of the place,” he added.
Padilla said the military has “sealed off” about 19 barangays in Marawi that remain “a dangerous place” and prevented the return of the civilians for their safety.
He said they want to apprehend these suspects so they could not carry out lone-wolf attacks elsewhere.
“As you may have noted in the last few days, there have been a series of engagements that have occurred between our forces who continue to perform clearing operations,” he said.
“Our forces remain on alert, remain vigilant and will continue to perform the clearing operations until such time that we can guarantee that this place, the last parts where the battle has raged in the last few weeks, is already free from every single terrorist,” Padilla added.
Tags: foreign fighters, government troops, Isnilon Hapilon, Joint Task Force Ranao, Marawi city, Maute Group, Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, Omar Maute, Restituto Padilla Jr., security forces, terrorist bomb
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