MANILA — Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, the Islamic State (IS) emir in Southeast Asia, no longer has the capacity to mount an attack in Mindanao similar in scale to what happened in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday.
During the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said Hapilon’s capacity to sow terror in Mindanao has significantly decreased after government forces thwarted the Maute terror group’s plan to establish a caliphate for IS in Marawi.
Padilla made the remark following reports that Hapilon, who had joined forces with the Maute, might have escaped the strife-torn Marawi City. He however reiterated that they are still validating Hapilon’s alleged escape.
“Kasi pagka may bakbakan po, ang pinakamahirap at pinakamasakit na mangyari ay iiwanan ka ng isang kinikilala mong leader…Ang kapasidad niya (Hapilon) na maglunsad ng anumang klaseng panggugulo, hindi po kami naniniwala na kaya pa niya,” Padilla said.
“Malaki na po ang nangyari na ang mga tumagal ng mga nakaraang linggong ito at ‘yung kapasidad na magsagawa ng kaguluhan, sa scale na nakita natin sa Marawi, hindi na po nila kakayanin ‘yan,” he added.
The AFP official described Hapilon’s possible escape as “an act of cowardice” if reports that he indeed fled from the strife-torn city were to be believed.
“It was an act of cowardice if he abandoned his fellow terrorists from inside. And showing that he fled from the battle and left many more of his companions inside would not sit well and may be indicative of an infighting that is occurring among them,” said Padilla.
According to the latest update, at least 27 civilians and 71 government troops have died since the clashes erupted. Meanwhile, 299 terrorists have been killed. A total of 1,711 civilians have been rescued.
The AFP said the clashes prevented a bigger attack that the terrorists had planned, as confirmed in a confiscated video which showed Hapilon and Maute group leaders Omar and Abdullah planning the takeover of Marawi City.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after fighting broke out between security forces and members of the Maute terrorist group on May 23. The fighting started when security forces attempted to arrest Hapilon.