MANILA, Philippines — The military dismissed reports that most wanted terror leader Isnilon Hapilon is no longer in Marawi City, as troops are slowly closing in on remaining villages held by militant group Maute and its affiliates.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the military spokesperson, on Friday said that the commander leading operations in Marawi against Islamist fighters has found no indications so far that Hapilon has made it outside the city.
"We checked [this report] and the announcement of Maj. Gen Rolando Bautista, the head of Task Force Marawi, was that it was not, and has not yet been proven... They believe [Hapilon] is still there," Padilla said in Filipino at a televised news conference at Malacañang.
Padilla said speculations on Hapilon's escape were put in motion after a journalist, citing ground sources, tweeted the report.
The attempted siege by the Maute militants was triggered by a botched military operation on May 23 to arrest Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf, who has reportedly been suffering from injuries.
According to previous reports, Hapilon, whose head the United States has a bounty for, might have attempted to go back to Marawi after leaving the city a few days ago.
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