MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf leader and supposed prince of the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate in Southeast Asia, is still inside Marawi City, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
In a press conference on Monday, July 3, Lorenzana said the military's latest reports indicate the terrorist leader has not left the embattled Mindanao city.
"According to our latest info, he is still inside Marawi. In fact, there is information we got this morning that he is hiding in one of the mosques in Marawi," said Lorenzana.
The week before, the Philippine Army had received reports that Hapilon had fled Marawi, but was still verifying them.
"He (Hapilon) has not been seen in the area. We have some reports that he was already able to slip somewhere but as of now we are still confirming the reports," said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, head of the military's Western Mindanao Command, in an interview on dzBB.
But Lorenzana thinks Hapilon is still in Marawi because military assets said the terrorist leader was not among the terrorists who returned to Basilan to flee the ongoing fighting. Basilan is where Hapilon is based.
"I think this is maybe correct because we also have people watching his arrival in Basilan. There were 3 fighters from Marawi [who] arrived in Basilan more than a week ago but Isnilon was not one of them so we still believe he is still in Marawi," the defense chief said.
The military is depending on civilian residents of Jolo, Basilan, and Marawi for information on Hapilon.
The large bounty on Hapilon's head, offered by the United States and Philippine governments, is helping in their efforts to gather more information on the terrorist leader's whereabouts.
"The Basilan people there, the Yakans, know that there is a [US$] 5 million price on the head of Hapilon. And it’s very tempting for them also to give us accurate report on his whereabouts so that they will also, maybe get some of the money," said Lorenzana.
This is on top of the $5-million bounty offered by the US and will likely be added to a standing P7.4-million bounty for Hapilon from the Philippine government. In total, the cash reward for Hapilon's capture or death would be around P270 million. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.