Bodies, firearms retrieved from former Maute stronghold

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Government troops retrieved piles of bodies of Maute fighters and a hoard of burned firearms after clearing the whole block of Bato Mosque, formerly a key enemy stronghold in Marawi City.

Up to 15 bodies were retrieved in the area that troops fought hard to take from the Maute fighters, said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, chief of the military's Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

"We have significantly cleared the whole block of Bato Mosque and the different chambers wherin the bodies of dead Maute members have been found," Galvez said in a press briefing on Friday, September 29.

The military said it was checking if Omar Maute – one of the key leaders behind the attack on Marawi –  was among those killed. Some of the faces were not recognizable, according to a source. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

"We are verifying. Sana nga kasama na siya roon (We hope his body is among those recovered)," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Rappler on Thursday. 

Talks about Omar Maute's death swirled in Marawi following an intelligence report that he was severely wounded in fierce firefights over control of the mosque. 

Bato Mosque previously served as enemy headquarters, where command and control came from. It was also where hostages were kept and where the Maute group reportedly kept its armory.

The military offensive forced the Maute fighters to abandon the mosque two weeks ago and allowed the rescue of up to 5 hostages including Catholic priest Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub and Dansalan teacher Lordvin Acopio. (READ: The life of a Maute hostage in Marawi)

Fighting continued in the area as Maute fighters holed up in tall buildings surrounding the mosque. On Thursday, the whole block was cleared. 

Galvez said the hostages were moved to other locations in the battle area. 

Troops had pushed back the enemies into a smaller space towards the lake but the military said improvised explosive devices slowed down the final push to end the war. – Rappler.com