Maute base captured; hostage priest rescued

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Maute base captured; hostage priest rescued
Smoke billowing from buildings and residential areas of Marawi in the southern island of Mindanao, as fighting between government troops and Muslim militants continue, Sept. 16. -- REUTERS

THE MILITARY said Sunday, Sept. 17, it had captured the command center of Maute group supporters who have besieged a southern city for nearly four months.

Security forces have engaged in ferocious street-to-street combat and launched air strikes in their efforts to expel the fighters from the city of Marawi, in a conflict that has raised fears that the Islamic State (IS) is looking to establish a Southeast Asian base in the Philippines.

The military said it had captured the militants’ control center in a deadly battle that began Saturday in a mosque and another building.

“This enormous (military) gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” military chief General Eduardo M. Año said in a statement.

“As follow-up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight,” he said. “We are ready for that.”

Hundreds of armed extremists flying the black flag of the Islamic State movement in the Middle East occupied Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.

More than 800 militants, government troops and civilians have since been killed in the conflict, which has forced thousands to flee their homes and destroyed large parts of the once-bustling city.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has deployed thousands of troops and imposed martial law across the southern third of the country to deal with the crisis, while the military has launched a US-backed air campaign against the militants.

In a related development, Catholic priest Teresito “Chito Suganob,” the most high-profile hostage taken by Maute group terrorists when the Marawi Siege began May 23, is now in government hands, a Palace adviser said Sunday.

In his Facebook post, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza said Father Suganob — Marawi Prelature vicar general — was found 11:00 p.m. Saturday near Bato Mosque, the strategic facility retaken over the weekend by government troops in the final push to liberate Marawi from the IS-inspired terrorists.

In his post, Mr. Dureza said: “Got this just now from Franklin M. Quijano: For info sir father Chito Suganob together with one other was rescued by troops near Bato mosque at ooa 162300hsept2017. This is the 2nd grand mosque in Marawi that has been taken over by our troops.”

The Armed Forces of the Phlippines, however, declined to confirm as of Sunday noon the safe recovery of Fr. Suganob and an unnamed civilian.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs chief, said operations are still ongoing and premature disclosure might jeopardize the lives of soldiers still at the front lines in the final push to liberate from Maute the Islamic city, and the other hostages they are trying to rescue. — reports by AFP,