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Fight is over – AFP

TENT CITY: Evacuees from Marawi City fill their containers with purified water near a ‘tent city’ along the road in Balo-i town in Lanao del Norte on Saturday. KRIZJOHN ROSALES

Rody: Be ready for terrorist attacks

ZAMBOANGA CITY  , Philippines  — The fight is over in Marawi City, military officials declared yesterday after 153 days of fighting with the Islamic State-inspired Maute group of militants.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., the senior military commander overseeing the offensive in Marawi, said the troops were poised to finish off the remaining militants confined on one floor of a building in the war-torn city.

“Yes, tapos na ito (this is finished). We are clearing the last floors,” Galvez said in a brief text message to reporters.

Army Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao, said troops were clearing the building where some 30 Maute fighters were still holed up.

He said troops were determined to end the crisis before midnight yesterday.

Brawner said the remaining gunmen, who include several Indonesian and Malaysian fighters, have the option of surrendering, or they can either be captured or killed.

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“Our government forces will try to do everything to finish the firefight today,” Brawner told a news conference in Marawi yesterday.

“It’s either they all get killed, because they’re determined to die inside, or we capture them or they surrender,” he said.

Brawner said some women and relatives of the gunmen have chosen to fight alongside their menfolk.

Troops had cornered the militants in one building and all their hostages gone as the five-month siege neared its end.

“We believe there are no more hostages… the latest number of hostages we rescued is 20… we believe that those inside that building have chosen to stay with their husbands,” Brawner said.

He said the wives of the gunmen who chose to surrender will be treated as non-combatants and will undergo psychological debriefing.

Be prepared

President Duterte yesterday said the fight against the Maute group is not yet over, urging the public to brace for more terror attacks.

“In the coming days, with the siege that happened in Marawi, I’m not trying to scare you but let’s just be prepared for any eventuality,” Duterte said during the 38th MassKara Festival in Bacolod City.

“Terrorism is everywhere. And no nation has escaped from the clutches of the evil of ISIS. It’s an ideology dedicated to just kill human beings and destroy places,” Duterte said, referring to the IS.

Even with the defeat of the Maute group, Duterte said martial law will remain in Mindanao “until the last terrorist is taken out.”

Duterte thanked the security forces who fought the terrorists in Marawi, saying they are lucky to be given the opportunity to die for the country.

“Not every Filipino is given a chance to die for his country. That’s my message to the soldiers,” he said.

“Treat your soldiers well. They have sacrificed for this country.”

A gradual withdrawal of military forces was underway with the easing of the fighting in Marawi, which has left at least 1,131 people dead, including 919 militants and 165 soldiers and policemen.

Brawner said the troops continued to ask the gunmen, who are leaderless and running low on ammunition, to surrender by using loudspeakers.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Eduardo Año said some of the remaining militants were “suicidal” and refused to give up.

Hundreds of the Maute group, many waving IS black flags, launched the siege on May 23 in Marawi, seizing the lakeside city’s central business district and outlying communities. They ransacked banks and shops, including gun stores, looted houses and smashed statues in a Roman Catholic cathedral, according to the military.

To address the terrorist threats, Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law and ordered the arrest of politicians and drug personalities believed to have funded the siege.

At least 1,780 of the hostages seized by the militants, including a Roman Catholic priest, were rescued, and a final group of 20 captives were freed overnight, Brawner said.

That left the gunmen with none of the hostages they had used as human shields to slow the military advance for months.

Among the foreign militants believed to be with the remaining gunmen in Marawi were Malaysian Amin Baco and an Indonesian known only as Qayyim. Both have plotted attacks and provided combat training to local extremists for years but have eluded capture in Mindanao.

Last Monday, troops killed the final two surviving leaders of the siege: Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute.

Following their deaths, President Duterte traveled near the frontlines and declared Marawi had been essentially liberated from terrorist influence, although skirmishes with a few dozen gunmen continued.

DNA tests done in the United States requested by the AFP have confirmed the death of Hapilon, according to the US embassy in Manila.

“This is yet another example of how the US is supporting our friend, partner, and ally in the fight against terror,” embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina said.

Washington has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for Hapilon, who had been blamed for kidnappings for ransom of American nationals and other terrorist attacks.

AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla clarified the reward would only be given to civilians who provided the vital information.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, for his part, declared the beginning of the phase for rehabilitation.

“With the rescue of all the hostages who were claimed by witnesses and other hostages to be among the last who were held captive by the Maute terrorists, it is now time to win the hearts and minds of the people there in Marawi,” Esperon said.

Esperon stressed the rehabilitation of Marawi City should be fast-tracked as local officials have started to identify the city residents.

Those who are not residents will not be eligible for the rehabilitation efforts and whatever assistance extended to displaced individuals, he said.

At least nine barangays in Marawi City have been opened and allowed the return of residents.

The National Housing Authority will initially build about 1,500 temporary shelters, or pre-fabricated houses that will take about only two days to construct.

A multi-agency task force has also been formed to attend to the different needs of the residents so all aspects of the rehabilitation of Marawi City are properly addressed. –Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado, Michael Punongbayan, Pia Lee-Brago, AP

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