Maute/IS base falls, troops rescue priest

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THE military said Sunday it had captured the command center of Maute group, the Islamic State supporters who have besieged Marawi City for nearly four months.

Security forces have engaged in ferocious street to street combat and launched airstrikes in their efforts to expel the fighters from the city of Marawi, in a conflict that has raised fears that IS is looking to establish a Southeast Asian base in the Philippines.

The military said it had captured the militants’ control center in a deadly battle that began Saturday in a mosque and another building.

“This enormous [military] gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said in a statement.

“As follow up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight,” he said. “We are ready for that.”

On Saturday, troops rescued the Catholic priest held hostage by the terrorists.

The priest, Chito Suganob, was with an unidentified hostage when security forces freed them at 11 p.m.

CONQUEST. Military trucks go on patrol in Marawi on Sunday Sept. 17, 2017 after having captured the command center of the IS-linked Maute terrorists. Lower panel shows government soldiers in a house-to-house clearing operations. Mark Navales

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza posted news of the rescue on his Facebook page.

Suganob was with a parish secretary, two working students, and at least 10 other parishioners inside the Cathedral of St. Mary’s when they were abducted by the terrorists who broke into the religious compound on May 23.

A Maute terrorist was killed while five soldiers were wounded during the rescue. A mosque and a school were cleared of terrorists in the action Saturday.

In an interview over Church-run Radyo Veritas, Iligan City Bishop Elenito Galido said they were informed that Suganob was rescued along with a teacher of Dansalan College, one of the establishments attacked by the Maute group.

“It’s really good news. We thank the soldiers who rescued Father Chito and one teacher. We’re all so happy that our prayers have been answered,” the bishop said in Filipino.

Government troops spread out through the main battle zone to intercept terrorists who were trying to escape.

Hundreds of armed extremists flying the black flag of the Islamic State movement in the Middle East occupied Marawi on May 23.

More than 800 militants, government troops and civilians have since been killed in the conflict, which has forced thousands to flee their homes and destroyed large parts of the once-bustling city. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has deployed thousands of troops and imposed martial law across the southern third of the country to deal with the crisis, while the military has launched a US-backed air campaign against the militants. 

The Palace on Sunday will refrain from commenting on the latest developments in the Marawi crisis, as ongoing operations might be jeopardized, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“We will provide information and other pertinent details as soon as conditions on the ground allow us. Thank you for your understanding,” Abella said. 

Malacañang on Friday said President Rodrigo Duterte will skip the United Nations General Assembly later this month to attend to the ongoing crisis in Marawi City.

In a separate statement earlier, Abella said Duterte has decided to lessen foreign travels to deal with the country’s issues.

“The President has stated that he would minimize foreign travels for now to attend to pressing domestic concerns, such as the rehabilitation of Marawi,” Abella said.

Fighting between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists have been raging for nearly four months in Marawi City, leaving at least 845 dead, most of them terrorists, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The prolonged conflict has left much of the once bustling urban center ravaged, and the government has begun plans for its rehabilitation. With AFP

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