MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon was the target of the military operation in Marawi City on Tuesday, May 23.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was spotted in Marawi City along with members of the Maute Group. The military clashed with combined forces of the two groups that previously pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS). (READ: 4 PH terror groups link up with pro-ISIS fighters in region)
“He was [the target], and his force engaged the military and the police,” Lorenzana confirmed in a text message.
An officer privy to the operations in Marawi City told Rappler Hapilon was positively identified before the raid.
As of 10:30 pm, the military was still conducting pursuit operations against Hapilon and his men, according to Army 1st Infantry Division spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera.
“The joint AFP-PNP team that is after Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts is determined to finish him off,” said military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said in a statement.
Hapilon is reported to be the direct contact of ISIS in the Philippines. The military claimed he left his hometown in Basilan to join the Maute Group in Central Mindanao because ISIS wanted him to scout for a better area to establish a caliphate in Mindanao.
Hapilon was believed to be severely wounded in air strikes in Butig in January.
The Maute Group, meanwhile, was responsible for occupying and raising the ISIS black flag at the Butig Municipal Hall in November 2016. It took weeks before the military was able to flush out the terrorists from the town hall.
On Tuesday, a cop was killed and 5 soldiers were wounded in the clashes. Three fires also broke out outside the military’s area of operations. The military said these were perpetrated by sympathizers.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao on the heel of the clashes in Marawi City. – Rappler.com