By Jim Gomez
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine military chief said Monday that three leaders of Islamic State-linked militants who besieged a southern city have been killed in months of fighting but two others, including one of Asia's most wanted terror suspects, were still alive and leading a final stand.
Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano said about 10 foreign militants, mostly Malaysians and Indonesians, were still fighting together with a few dozen local militants in a lakeside community in Marawi city after a series of battle setbacks.
Ano and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana presented in a news conference a Catholic priest, Father Teresito Soganub, who they said was rescued along with a teacher by troops late Saturday after a mosque used as snipers' post and bomb-making area by the militants fell after a five-hour battle.
"Pray for me for my healing and recovery," said the 51-year-old Soganub, who appeared remarkably healthy with a long, white beard.
He smiled and waved at photographers and TV cameras before being ushered out of a military hall without taking any questions. The priest survived in militant custody through more than three months of daily airstrikes, artillery bombardment and gunfire and, according to Ano, refused to go along with a plan to escape by other hostages.
"No, allow me to die here. I have already accepted my fate," Ano quoted Soganub as telling fellow hostages, who once considered making a dash to freedom out of desperation.
At least 45 hostages remain in the custody of a few dozen remaining gunmen and efforts to rescue them are underway, he said.
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