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Philippines' Duterte Declares Marawi Freed From 'Terrorist Influence'

By VOA News October 17, 2017

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has declared the southern city of Marawi "liberated from the terrorist influence" after a five-month battle to retake the southern city from Islamic militants.

Duterte's declaration in front of a group of rain-soaked troops Tuesday came a day after two key militant leaders, Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, were killed during a targeted military operation. Hapilon, who swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was one of the most wanted terrorists listed by the United States, which offered a $5 million reward for his arrest.

Despite the president's declaration of victory, military officials said a small pocket of 20 to 30 armed militants are still holding about 20 hostages in Marawi, a city of 200,000 located on the southern island of Mindanao.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since May 23, when Philippine security forces launched a mission to capture Hapilon. The raid collapsed after a wave of militants stormed the city and went on a rampage, burning houses, a university and Catholic churches and taking scores of hostages. Much of Marawi has been leveled by airstrikes aimed at bringing an end to the siege.

Military officials say they are also searching for Mahmud Ahmad, a close associate of Hapilon who experts say is likely to take over for Hapilon as Islamic State's leader in the region.

The southern Philippines, particularly the resource-rich but poverty-wracked Mindanao region, has long been a hotbed of activity by the Abu Sayyaf and other fundamentalist groups.

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