The head of ISIS in Southeast Asia, who figures on the US “most wanted terrorists” list, has been killed in the battle to reclaim Philippines’ southern Marawi city, the country’s defense minister said Monday.
Security analysts say Isnilon Hapilon has been a key figure in the terrorist group’s drive to establish a so-called “caliphate” as ISIS suffers battlefield defeats in Iraq and Syria.
Hapilon’s death came during a push to end the four-month siege of Marawi.
“(Our troops) were able to get Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute. They were both killed,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, referring to another fighter who led the attack with Hapilon on Marawi in May.
“Their bodies have been recovered by our operating units.”
The US government had offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to Hapilon’s arrest.
Lorenzana said Philippine ground forces mounting a final assault on the militants in Marawi killed Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two brothers who lead a militant group allied to Hapilon, early Monday.
DNA tests will be carried out on the two bodies because of the reward offer from the US and Philippine governments, he added.
“The implication of this development is that the Marawi incident is almost over and we may announce the termination of hostilities in a couple of days,” Lorenzana said.
“We were able to get a testimony from a hostage. She was able to confirm the presence of Isnilon and Maute in that particular building. That’s the building that we assaulted,” he added.
Pro-ISIS gunmen occupied parts of Marawi on May 23 following a foiled attempt by security forces to arrest Hapilon, authorities said.
The Philippine military says Hapilon joined forces with the Maute group to plan the rampage. Since then more than 1,000 people have been killed and 400,000 residents displaced.
Defense chiefs last month said other Philippine militant leaders had been killed in the battle for the southern city.
Troops were still pursuing Malaysian militant leader Mahmud Ahmad in the Marawi battle zone, Lorenzana said on Monday.
Hapilon is believed to have been involved in 2001 kidnappings of three Americans, two of whom were later killed.