• Troops seize Maute command center

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    Priest, teacher rescued
    The military claimed on Sunday to have captured the command center of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group following ferocious battles and air strikes.

    Presidential Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza also announced that Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, who was taken hostage by the Maute in May, was rescued on Saturday along with a teacher.

    Security forces have engaged the Maute terrorists in ferocious street-to-street combat in a deadly operation that began Saturday against a mosque and another building.

    “This enormous (military) gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said in a statement.

    EMPTY CITY Photo above, taken on September 16, 2017, shows smoke billowing from buildings and residential areas of Marawi as fighting between government troops and Muslim militants continue. AFP PHOTO

    “As follow up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight,” he said. “We are ready for that.”

    Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, said the military had encountered some of the heaviest resistance in recovering the mosque.

    Its capture may be a sign that the prolonged fighting with the Maute militant group, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to IS, may be nearing a conclusion, he said.

    “We believe we are close to the end. The area where the Maute terrorist group can move is shrinking. We noticed that their resistance is weakening,” Brawner said.

    “They are retreating while we are assaulting but in the process of doing so, we are encountering many improvised explosive devices so we cannot just advance. We have to be very careful,” he said.

    One soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in the battle.

    Brawner said they had hoped to rescue numerous civilian hostages when they captured the mosque but they found no one.

    Brawner said the ringleaders of the siege are still believed to be inside Marawi, adding that the military was determined to hunt them down.

    “We do not want this to happen again in any other city in the Philippines,” he said.

    Rescued
    Suganob and Lordbin Noblesa Acopio, a teacher from Dansalan College, were rescued after troops regained Bato Mosque, one of the grand mosques in Marawi, Dureza said.

    Dureza said the priest was rescued at about 11 p.m. on Saturday.

    Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob

    Military officials refused to give details on Suganob’s rescue, saying operations continue in Marawi.

    Malacañang also imposed a news blackout on the Marawi siege.

    Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Palace will provide information on the war in Marawi City “as soon as conditions on the ground allows.”

    “As per guidance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we [will]refrain from making comments on the latest developments in the main battle area of Marawi at this time as ongoing operations may be jeopardized, as well as the lives of the remaining hostages, or soldiers in the frontlines,” Abella said.

    A source however said in a report relayed to select reporters that Suganob, 51, and Acopio, 29, were taken to the Tactical Command Post after they were rescued.

    Empty city
    In Marawi, gunfire could still be heard ringing out in the distance as troops backed by armored vehicles, pressed towards militant positions.

    The rubble-strewn streets were practically empty except for scores of heavily armed soldiers securing the area. Philippine aircraft and an American P-3 Orion spy plane flew above the city.

    Hundreds of armed extremists flying the black flag of the Islamic State movement in the Middle East occupied Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.

    The government said 666 militants, at least 147 government troops and 47 civilians have since been killed in the battle, which has forced thousands to flee their homes.

    Brawner said the ringleaders of the siege are still believed to be inside Marawi, adding that the military was determined to hunt them down.

    LLANESCA PANTI AND AFP

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