THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assured the public on Wednesday that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the wanted terrorist said to be the chieftain of the Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, was no longer capable of launching terror attacks outside Marawi City.
“We don’t believe that he (Hapilon) still has the capability to launch any hostile attack,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. told reporters during the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing in Malacañang.
Padilla made the assurance following reports that Hapilon may have escaped from conflict-torn Marawi City, where government troops are locked in battle with Maute group terrorists attempting to establish an IS province.
“There have been significant developments in the past weeks [in Marawi City]. And his capacity to sow terror on the scale we observed in Marawi, he could not do that anymore,” he said.
The military official emphasized that Hapilon’s alleged escape had yet to be “validated,” as it could be disinformation meant to lower the military’s guard.
“It’s an act of cowardice, if he abandoned his fellow terrorists from inside. And showing that he fled from the battle and left many more of his companions inside would not sit well and may be indicative of infighting that is occurring among them,” Padilla said.
The AFP however said it was “safer to assume that the enemies we’re looking for are still there.”
“That is where we’re working at and that is where our focus is, until such time we have sufficient proof to say otherwise,” Padilla said.
“It is important that he be caught dead or alive and it is in the interest of our country [because]he’s been wanted for a long time,” he added.
The Abu Sayyaf leader was indicted in the United States for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines in 2001. The US government has placed a $5-million bounty on his head.
Hapilon was the target of government security forces in an entrapment launched on May 23, but the attempt to arrest him was foiled as they engaged in a firefight with Islamist armed men.
Fighting among government troops and extremists in Marawi City forced President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial rule in Mindanao.