Troops are still battling some fighters hiding amid the ruins of a city battered by months of government air strikes. Troops have since killed nine fighters in Marawi, Colonel Romeo Brawner said on Monday, emphasizing why residents were being kept out of the pulverized battle zone.
The army announced an end to combat operations in southern Marawi two weeks ago, after killing what they believed were the last group of a rebel alliance that controlled parts of the lakeside city for five months.
More than 1,100 people, mostly fighters, were killed and 350,000 displaced by the Marawi unrest, a crisis that shocked predominantly Catholic Philippines and led to unease about ISIL (also known as ISIS) gaining traction in Muslim majority parts of the island of Mindanao.
Following the country’s biggest security crisis in decades, troops made significant advances in the week since they killed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and the emir of ISIL in Southeast Asia.
His assumed deputy, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, and Amin Baco, also Malaysian, were also believed killed, as was Omarkhayan Maute, a top member in the alliance.
But since then, it has emerged that Baco has survived the fighting.
“We are still looking for Amin Baco,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, describing the Malaysian as the likely new emir of the rebels.
“He could be somewhere on Jolo island or in nearby Maguindanao,” an army colonel familiar with armed Islamist groups in Mindanao told Reuters.
Philippine authorities are on the lookout for Baco, who could be the new leader of pro-ISIL groups in Southeast Asia, security chiefs said.
Police chief Ronaldo dela Rosa said he received similar information that Baco, an expert bomb-maker, had assumed the role of ISIL’s leadership in Marawi.
The information that Baco could be in charge came from an Indonesian arrested in Marawi last week, dela Rosa said.
As early as 2011, Baco was facilitating movements into the Philippines of funds, arms and fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia, but his links to the ISIL network were not known to be strong, another military intelligence official said.
He said Baco was in a position to take over because of his familiarity with fighters from various groups in Mindanao.