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Hapilon still in Marawi

By: Genalyn D. Kabiling

Top Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon is still in hiding somewhere in Marawi City, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday, in a bid to dispel speculations he escaped the security cordon in the conflict-torn area.

FILE - This undated file image provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows Isnilon Hapilon, who was purportedly designated leader of the Islamic State group's Southeast Asia branch in 2016 but has long ties to local extremist movements. The Philippines' defense chief said Monday, July 3, 2017, that Hapilon, the militant leader of the group that laid siege to a southern city of Marawi, is suspected to be hiding in a mosque there, days after he was reported to have fled the bombed-out city. (FBI via AP, File)

FILE – This undated file image provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows Isnilon Hapilon, who was purportedly designated leader of the Islamic State group’s Southeast Asia branch in 2016 but has long ties to local extremist movements. The Philippines’ defense chief said Monday, July 3, 2017, that Hapilon, the militant leader of the group that laid siege to a southern city of Marawi, is suspected to be hiding in a mosque there, days after he was reported to have fled the bombed-out city. (FBI via AP, File)

Lorenzana said Hapilon, who joined forces with the Maute terror group in the siege of Marawi, has taken refuge in one of the mosques in the city based on latest military information.

“According to our latest info, he’s still inside Marawi. In fact, there is an information we got this morning that he’s hiding in one of the mosques there in Marawi,” Lorenzana said during the “Mindanao Hour” briefing in Malacañang.

Lorenzana said Hapilon was not among the three fighters who escaped Marawi and fled to Basilan more than a week ago.

“We also have people watching his arrival in Basilan. There were three fighters from Marawi that arrived in Basilan more than a week ago, but Isnilon was not one of them so we still believe that he is still in Marawi,” he said.

Lorenzana said the military’s information on the whereabouts of Hapilon came from concerned civilians.

He noted that Isnilon has become a “lucrative target” for some people due to the huge bounty placed on his head. “It is very tempting for them also to give us accurate report on his whereabouts so they can get some of the money,” he said.

The military earlier reported that Hapilon, who leads the Abu Sayyaf that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, has not recently been seen in the battle zone in Marawi, triggering speculations he may have escaped the city.

Government troops tried to arrest Hapilon last May 23 but such attempt went awry after militants launched a rampage in the mainly Muslim city.

The United States placed a $5-million bounty on Hapilon due to his involvement in the kidnapping of three Americans in the country several years ago.

President Duterte also offered a P10-million reward for information leading to the capture of Hapilon following the rebellion mounted in Marawi.

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