Philippines Army says Islamists making 'last stand' in Marawi

Philippines Army says Islamists making 'last stand' in Marawi

The head of the Islamic State group in Southeast Asia, who figures on the U.S. "most wanted terrorists" list, was killed on Monday in the battle to reclaim a militant-held Philippines city, officials said.

Fighting in Marawi City erupted between when government forces tried to arrest Hapilon who was declared as the "emir" of the terror group ISIS in Southeast Asia last May 23.

Mr Duterte spoke in Marawi before an audience of troops at a ruined school campus about a kilometre from the area where fighting continues.

Isnilon Hapilon's reported death came during a final push to end the almost five-month siege of Marawi, a battle that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and raised fears that IS was seeking to set up a regional base in the southern Philippines.

However, AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año stressed in a press briefing in Marawi, also on Tuesday, assured that just because the battle is near its end, it does not mean that there will be a "letup" in their operations.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation", Duterte told soldiers and civilian officials.

Around 20 hostages are still remaining in the battle zone.

The siege, which lasted nearly five months destroyed much of the city's once popular center and left more than 400,000 people from Marawi and elsewhere living in temporary shelters.

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"We need to verify if those on the watch list were killed, otherwise we have to assume that they are alive", he said, adding that many of those on the rouge's gallery were already killed since the fighting in Marawi started on May 23.

Philippine flags hung on Tuesday from pockmarked buildings and houses, their roofs either blasted away or riddled with gunshot holes.

Soldiers stood guard in front of some buildings and at intersections where battle debris had been shovelled to the side.

President Rodrigo Duterte and security analysts say Hapilon has been a key figure in the jihadist outfit's drive to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate as they suffer battlefield defeats in Iraq and Syria.

Padilla disclosed that among those who continued to fight were about eight to 10 foreign terrorists, mostly Malaysian and Indonesian nationals, led by Dr Mahmud Ahmad, tagged as the "financier' of the Marawi siege".

"We're very happy because they have lost their leaders".

"We can not let our guard down", said Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division (4ID).

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