The Filipino leader of the Islamic State (IS) branch in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, has been killed in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, where the army has been locked in a battle to dislodge the group since May, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.
Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping gang who allied himself with IS, was slain along with Omarkhayam Maute, another militant leader, in a predawn clash Monday, Lorenzana said.
“They are confirmed dead,” Lorenzana told reporters in Manila, adding that Hapilon’s demise could help “eradicate” the overall IS threat in the south.
“We have received a report from [military] ground commanders in Marawi that the operation conducted by government forces to retake the last remaining Daesh-Maute stronghold in the city has resulted in the death of the last terrorist leaders Hapilon and Omar and that their bodies have been recovered by our operating units,” he said, referring to IS by another name.
Lorenzana cautioned the public to brace for more attacks, especially in the nearby islands of Basilan and Sulu in the south where the IS has active terrorist cells.
“We are prepared. Our troops are prepared. We know this is the modus operandi of the enemy,” he said.
The news of Hapilon’s death comes after reports of heavy fighting in Marawi at the weekend, in which at least 20 soldiers, including a colonel, were wounded and at least 17 hostages were freed.
Hapilon and Maute were slain when army troops, led by elite units of the army’s Scout Rangers, pushed forward, Lorenzana said.
Hapilon’s death could signal the end of the Marawi crisis, but officials said other militant leaders in the south could take over from him.
More than 160 soldiers and policemen, 822 militants and 47 civilians have been killed since May 23 when militants launched their attacks in Marawi, officials said.
Full story: BenarNews
Jeoffrey Maitem, Froilan Gallardo, Mark Navales and Richel V. Umel
Marawi, Philippines.Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.
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