The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) assured the public that Isnilon Hapilon said to be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia was no longer capable of launching another terror attack outside Marawi City.
“Ang kapasidad niya na mag-lunsad ng anumang klaseng pang-gugulo, hindi po kami naniniwala na kaya pa niya [We don’t believe that he (Hapilon) still has the capability to launch any hostile attack],” Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, told reporters during the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday.
“Malaki na po ang nangyari noong mga tumagal na mga nakaraang linggo na ito. At ang kapasidad na magsigawa ng kaguluhan, sa scale na nakita sa Marawi, hindi na nila kakayanin iyan [There have been significant development 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],” he added.
Padilla made the assurance following reports that Hapilon may have escaped from conflict-torn Marawi City, which was still occupied by local and foreign terrorists in an attempt to establish caliphate for IS fighters.
The military official said such information still has to be validated.
“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 wit well and may be indicative of an infighting that is occurring among them,” Padilla said.
But Padilla added that, on the part of the AFP, 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 interest of our country kasi matagal na siyang wanted [because]he’s been wanted for a long time],” he added.
The Abu Sayyaf leader was indicted in the US for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of three American nationals in the Philippines in 2001. The US government also offered a $5-million bounty for his arrest.
Hapilon was the target of the security forces in a military entrapment launched on May 23 but the attempt to arrest him was foiled as they engaged in a firefight with Islamist armed men.
The fighting among government troops and extremists in Marawi City prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial rule in Mindanao in a bid to quell insurgency in the region.