OMAR Maute, one of the two leaders of the group of terrorists waging war against the government in Marawi City, is dead, the military said Friday.
In a press conference in Marawi City, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said there was a “strong indication” that Omar was killed during military operations two weeks ago.
Earlier, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año told reporters that Omar may have been killed in an encounter with soldiers.
But intelligence sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were still checking the veracity of the information and said other reports said Omar and his brother Abdullah had already escaped Marawi.
‘‘We have to get proof to make sure Omar was really dead. We say now he is dead and tomorrow we might see Omar is alive,” the source said.
The source added that what was confirmed was that a younger Maute brother, Madi, had been killed.
‘‘The intelligence sector has been receiving various signals, too, that Omar and Abdullah and their men were already out from Marawi. Those who were left in the war zone are Indonesians, Malaysians and Tausugs. These are members of the Abu Sayyaf. We believe the Maute’s already escaped because they knew the way out, unlike these foreign terrorists and Tausugs who are not familiar of the landscape of Marawi,” the source said.
The source added that the center of battle now was inside a affluent neighborhood with big, fortified houses that had tunnels and basements underneath them that were used as escape routes and storage for food and arms.
There was no concrete evidence either that Isnilon Hapilon, the ISIS-anointed leader in Southeast Asia, remained in the war zone, the source said.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier offered a P10-million reward for Hapilon and P5 million each for Omar and Abdullah Maute. The US State Department also has a standing reward of $5 million for the capture of Hapilon.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año insisted that Hapilon was still inside Marawi, and said that Omar Maute was most likely dead.
‘‘Abdulla is still alive… inside Marawi,” he added.
Since May 23, 280 terrorists, 60 government troops and 26 civilians have died.
Military officials also said the country’s porous border in the south enabled 40 foreign terrorists to slip into the country.
‘‘These foreign terrorists slipped into our country using our backdoor in the south because it is very porous,” Eastern Mindanao Commander Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said in a news briefing in Davao City.
‘‘And we are not also discounting the possibility that some may have slipped into the country through our airports and seaports. So I guess we have to really tighten and enhance our security measures as far as immigration is concerned,” he said.
Gapay said that authorities have identified the foreign terrorists in the country, most of whom are Indonesians and Malaysians. Others came from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
On Thursday, Año said that some 40 foreign terrorists are already in the country with the numbers expected to rise in the coming months.
Año, who is also the martial law administrator, said as ISIS fighters face defeat in Mosul in Iraq, they are expected to head to Asia, particularly to the Philippines.
Also on Friday, the Justice Department filed before the Cagayan De Oro Regional Trial Court a case for rebellion against three suspected members of the Maute terrorist group arrested in Iloilo last Sunday.
In an amended information made public Friday, the department charged Aljadid Pangompig Romato alias Hadid, Faridah Pangompig Romato alias Faridah Serad and Abdulrahman D. Serad alias Serad, Abdul Raman Dimakuta with rebellion.
The three accused were arrested Sunday while on board a 2GO vessel in the port of Iloilo reportedly bound for Manila.
Authorities confiscated two pieces of non-electric blasting caps, 3.5 meters of detonating cords and 1.5 meters time fuse and components of improvised explosive device.
The special panel of prosecutors created by the Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II recommended the indictment the three underwent an inquest proceeding Thursday.
Two panels of prosecutors have been tasked to handle the cases against members of the Maute group. With Rey E. Requejo
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