THE two top leaders of the Islamic State-inspired militants who triggered a war in the southern city of Marawi, Philippines, were killed in a firefight with security forces early Monday morning, a local report said.
Sources told Rappler that Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute Group leader Omar Maute were killed as local forces launched an offensive on an enemy position during a hostage rescue.
The report said the military was continuing its operations to flush out remaining militants and clear the battle area of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Hapilon, who is the so-called emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, left his lair in Basilan last year to join the Maute Group in Butig, Lanao Del Sur. In Butig, Hapilan joined Omar Maute and his brother Abdullah who led an occupation of Butig’s town centre, Rappler reported.
Local forces drove the militant groups to the mountains of Butiq but the armed groups shifted the conflict to Piagapo, near Marawi City, in April this year.
In following month, the Maute militant group laid siege on Marawi, which was a start to a nearly five-month-long war that led to the deaths of over 800 militants, 140 government troops and dozens of civilians.
The conflict drove out hundreds of thousands of residents from the coastal city since May 23, when government forces attempted to capture Isnilon in a botched raid.
The southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign fighters fighting alongside local militants has raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for IS as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria.
Militants from neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority nations, are fighting in Marawi.
After failing to quash the uprising in its initial weeks, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte extended martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2017.