MANILA: The Islamic State-inspired Maute group of extremists are abandoning their weapons and blending in with the civilian evacuees to escape Marawi City, the military said Thursday.
Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi, was quoted in the Philippine Star saying the militants are getting desperate to avoid government forces closing in on what remains of their stronghold.
“After the series of arrests of alleged Maute terrorists, including the parents of the Maute brothers who led the attack in Marawi City, hopeless terrorists have chosen to abandon their firearms and blend with the civilian evacuees who are escaping from ground zero,” Herrera said.
He added the militants are using their familiarity of the terrain to their advantage in slipping out from the area of operations.
Security forces, however, are well aware of the tactic and have formed a defensive ring around the area where the militants are holding out to prevent their escape.
“The authorities assure the people that with the combined strength of the security forces and other government agencies, these terrorists have nowhere to hide,” Herrera said.
Sporadic clashes have been ongoing in Marawi City since May 23 after the Maute group attacked the city, prompting President Duterte to put the entire Mindanao under martial law.
Herrera said the number of militants fighting the government troops in Marawi is dwindling.
“According to information we are getting from the ground troops operating in the area, there are more or less 100 members of the Maute terrorist group left,” he said.
Lt. Colonel Christopher Tampus said the militants have been confined to an area of a square kilometer.
According to the latest official estimates, 369 people have been killed during the month-long hostilities, three-quarters of them militants. The number of security forces and civilians killed stood at 67 and 26, respectively.
There are around 300 to 500 residents still trapped in the battle zone without any contact with the outside world, as well as thousands of soldiers deployed in the area to flush out the Maute terrorists.