ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Fighters of the Maute local terror group were forced to abandon the historic Bato Mosque in Marawi, one of 3 enemy strongholds that fell into government control over the past days, as troops continue to press forward in the battle area.
Multiple sources in Marawi confirmed to Rappler Saturday night, September 16, that troops have taken the mosque along with two other buildings that served as key enemy strongholds – Jamaitul Islamiyah Marawi Foundation (JIMF) and Jamaitul Philippine Al-Islamiya (JPI).
This means the maneuver space of the enemies continues to shrink.
It’s a major success in the battle area. In Manila, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año issued a statement congratulating Joint Task Force Marawi commander Major General Rolando Bautista and his men.
“This enormous AFP gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” Año said in a statement issued close to midnight.
Intense firefight ensued in the area. Four soldiers were wounded when an abandoned improvised explosive device detonated.
5-hour firefight in mosque’s periphery
Bato mosque was seized 5 pm on Saturday after a fierce 5-hour firefight with enemies “strategically located in the buildings in the periphery of the mosque and the JIMF,” according to the military statement.
The military vowed not to bomb the mosque, recognizing its importance to the predominantly Muslim population of Marawi. It’s also where the hostages were reportedly last seen.
Troops worked to clear buildings around the mosque before it reached the target. They were also able to take the adjacent building JIMF or the “pink building,” where female hostages were reportedly kept.
A day earlier, on Friday, September 15, the marines also cleared JPI, the first Islamic University in the Philippines. One enemy was killed in the offensive.
Año said the military expects intense resistance as troops continue to press forward.
“We are ready for that. The AFP will press on relentlessly until conclusion,” he said.
Where are the hostages?
Sources said the mosque and the pink building were abandoned when troops pressed forward to occupy them.
They said it appears the hostages were moved through the ratholes found in the area. (READ: Maute ratholes, trenches revealed as troops gain ground)
Hostaged priest Father Teresito Soganub was seen alive two weeks ago, based on an interview with Bautista on Wednesday, September 13.
The military said many of the hostages have been forced to become combatants. Others have been helping make dirty bombs, one of the main killers of government forces in the battle area.
The military launched its “final push” in the Marawi battle area after penetrating what it believes to be the final defensive stand of the enemies.
“We urge the remaining terrorists, especially former hostages turned fighters, to endeavor to communicate with the military surrender while they still have time,” said Año. (READ: Possible surrender by Maute recruits could end war sooner) – Rappler.com