The Philippine army succeeded in liberating the southern city of Marawi from the clutches of pro-ISIS terrorists that had been waging battles with the military for months, announced President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday.
“I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation,” Duterte told soldiers in Marawi.
Speaking to soldiers a day after the killing of two leaders of the rebel alliance, he said the fight was over and it was time to heal the wounded and rebuild the city of 200,000 people on the island of Mindanao.
Military chief General Eduardo Ano told The Associated Press that Duterte’s statement means the threat from the extremists, who have occupied parts of the lakeside city for five months, is substantially over.
“They’re leaderless and they have no more organization,” he said. “There are still skirmishes.”
A military spokesman said that 20-30 rebels were still fighting it out and were holding about 20 hostages. As many as 80 buildings will need to be swept for explosives.
Restituto Padilla said that although the fight was not completely over, the remaining rebels were “stragglers” who no longer posed a threat.
“There is no way that they can get out anymore, there is no way for anyone to get in,” Padilla told news channel ANC.
“So choking them to death at this point will be very key for our troops to do since the area is very much contained and very much controlled.”
Isnilon Hapilon, ISIS’ “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two “Khalifas” at the helm of the Dawla Islamiya militant alliance, were killed in a targeted operation on Monday and their bodies had been recovered and identified, authorities said.
The 148-day occupation by ISIS loyalists marked the country’s biggest internal security crisis in years.
Marawi has been devastated by the siege laid by the pro-ISIS group who overran the city on May 23. More than 1,000 people have been killed, including about 800 militants.
The surprise occupation of the city and the involvement of foreign fighters set off alarms in Southeast Asia and the West. Analysts said parts of the southern Philippines were at risk of becoming a new base for ISIS as it lost territory to international forces in Iraq and Syria.