Peace adviser confirms Maute-hostage priest rescued
After nearly four months of fighting, Philippine government troops have retaken a historic mosque along with two other major strongholds of Daesh-linked militants in the war-torn Marawi City.
Military officials expect the battle in there to end soon as most of the remaining Maute terrorists' command and controlled areas have been seized by troops.
Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. General Carlito Galvez said in a statement issued Sunday that troops finally regained the Bato Mosque and the Amaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation as well as the Jamaitul Philippine Al-Islamiyah buildings at past 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The Bato Mosque is one of the major places of worship for Muslims in Marawi that had been held by Daesh-linked militants since they laid siege to the city on May 23.
Several hostages were reportedly last seen there, according to Galvez. "Before retaking the mosque from the Maute, a 5-hour intense gun battle ensued in the area, where four soldiers were wounded when an abandoned improvised explosive device detonated."
A Maute gunman was also killed in the offensive a day earlier, Sept. 16. Two marines were also killed this week in close quarter fighting in another area in the battle zone, said Galvez.
"The seizure of another historical mosque and key Maute strongholds is a big blow for the remaining members of Maute and Abu Sayyaf," he said.
As of this report, the military continues to press forward in the battle area to penetrate what it believes to be the final defensive stand of the militants. It has been pounding the battle area with air strikes throughout the week.
WestMinCom spokesperson Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay said the death toll among government forces has reached 149.
"About 600 soldiers were also reported injured," said Petinglay. "The Maute terrorists now force their hostages, especially the male hostages to fight with the troops."
More than 800 terrorists are also believed to have been killed since May 23, when the groups of the Maute brothers - Abdullah and Omar -- backed by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon took over mosques, churches, some government facilities including including hospitals, schools, police stations, banks and other private buildings.
Armed Forces chief of staff General Eduardo Año told reporters in Manila that “This (retaking of Bato mosque) enormous gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile strongholds."
“As follow up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions," he added.
Año urged the remaining Maute gunmen, as well as former hostages turned fighters, to surrender "while they still have time."
Early last month, government security forces also regained control of the Grand Mosque located at the center of the battle zone in Marawi.
In a related development, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza on Sunday confirmed that Catholic priest Teresito "Chito" Suganob, who had been held by the Maute group since May 23, was rescued Saturday night.
In a text message, Dureza said Father Suganob was one of the hostages recovered by government troops near the Bato Mosque. However, he did not provide any further details citing "not to jeopardize the military ongoing operations."
Last May 23, Suganob, vicar general of the city's Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians in Marawi, who was abducted by the Maute group with several other parishioners and civilians. They surfaced on social media where he sought the help of President Rodrigo Duterte to halt the offensive against the militants.