Remaining hostages and members of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group have been “mixing up” within the main battle area in Marawi City, prompting the military to order segregation, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said on Thursday night.
Año disclosed that the military’s intelligence unit and ground commanders would have to conduct assessments to enable them to distinguish civilian hostages from their captors who are members of the terrorist Maute group.
“We have to validate who are the legitimate hostages and the [Maute] fighters. The hostages and the fighters are mixing up. We have to segregate who are the [Islamic State members] there and who are the real hostages as well,” Año told reporters on the sidelines of his testimonial parade at the Philippine Army Headquarters in Taguig City on Thursday evening.
As of Wednesday evening’s count, he said around 20 hostages have been rescued by government forces. Out of the said number, at least 10 were determined to be real hostages.
“The others, we suspected as members of the Maute [Group],” Año said.
In two separate assault operations conducted Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, about 20 terrorists have been killed including Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, believed to be the successor of Isnilon Hapilon as “emir” of the Islamic State for southeast Asia.
Año confirmed that information on Ahmad’s death came from a certain Magina, a “prominent” female hostage.
“She revealed the information that Dr. Mahmud was killed [on Wednesday night]and he was buried on that night by the remaining Maute fighters,” he said.
“Now, our task is to find or look for the grave and I believe that hostage because there were other several confirmatory reports that Dr. Mahmud has been killed,” the AFP chief said.
Soldiers were also directed to hunt down the people who buried Ahmad’s remains.
“The reason we are looking for [Maute members who buried Ahmad] is because these hostages are not privy to that,” Año said
Military records showed that about 897 terrorists, including the leaders of the group, have been killed in the fighting, which dragged for several months in the city. Meanwhile, 164 soldiers have been reported to have died in battle while 47 civilians were registered as casualties.
Troops also recovered 850 firearms from the terrorists. At least 22 unexploded ordnances have been retrieved while two improvised explosive devices have been seized as well. DEMPSEY REYES