Philippine troops have captured a building where pro-Islamic State group militants made their final stand in southern Marawi city and found about 40 bodies of suspected gunmen inside, two security officials said Monday. The officials said the seizure of the building and the defeat of the militants would allow the military to declare later today the end of the Marawi siege, which hundreds of black flag-waving gunmen launched exactly five months ago.
The two officials spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make public the latest developments in Marawi, where government forces have begun a gradual withdrawal as the fighting considerably eased in recent days.
It’s possible that a few militants may still be hiding. It was not immediately clear how the dozens of suspected militants found in the two-story building near Lake Lanao died but it’s possible some committed suicide after they were cornered by troops, one of the officials said.
The siege sparked fears the Islamic State group may gain a foothold in Southeast Asia by influencing and providing funds to local militants as it suffers battle defeats in Syria and Iraq. The defeat of the IS-linked uprising and the killings of its leaders by Filipino troops, however, have provided a relief to the region, where terrorism remains a key security concern.
Army Col. Romeo Brawner has said troops were aiming to end the crisis before midnight Sunday. The remaining gunmen, who include some Indonesian and Malaysian fighters, have the option of surrendering, or they can either be captured or killed, Brawner said.
“Our government forces will try to do everything to finish the firefight today,” Brawner said in a news conference on Sunday in Marawi. “It’s either they all get killed, because they’re determined to die inside, or we capture them or they surrender,” he said. The fighting has left at least 1,131 people dead, including 919 militants and 165 soldiers and policemen. While the fighting raged at noon on Sunday, troops continued to us loudspeakers to ask the gunmen to surrender, Brawner said.