Maute Group holding dozens of hostages

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday said around 40 or more hostages are still being held by Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi City.

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Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokeswoman for the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), said the estimated number was from the accounts of the four escapees from the battle area.

Of the 40 remaining hostages, more than 20 are women she said, quoting the four hostages who escaped through Lake Lanao and were rescued by the military guarding the waters.

CHEERFUL GIVER A soldier distributes biscuits to children from Marawi City who took shelter in an evacuation center in Malabang, Lanao del Sur. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“This is based on the number mentioned by the four hostages who managed to escape, there are 40 plus, because they were originally 50 and when these four went out from the battle zone, there are 40 remaining,” Petinglay told reporters in an interview.

“We will not estimate that there are 40 remaining, it may also exceed because we still don’t have a clear view if how many there are. There might be hostages in other areas as well,” she added.

The hostages include Fr. Chito Suganob.

The military stepped up its offensives against the Maute Group on Saturday, hours after a day after AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año visited wounded troops.

State troops have yet to clear 400 structures in the city.

Petinglay said soldiers take one to two days to clear a six-story building.

“For this time, structures are taller and a lot of improvised explosives were planted [by the Maute gunmen]and since it is getting smaller, we are also thinking about the presence of civilian hostages, those are the new challenges we are facing right now,” Petinglay said.

At least 50 Maute members are still holed up in the war-torn city, based on the information given by the four escaped hostages, she added.

Based on the latest military count, at least 560 terrorists have been killed in more than two months of clashes. The AFP said 128 soldiers 45 civilians have also been killed.

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