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Maute terror base overrun; priest rescued

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MARAWI CITY — The vicar general of Marawi City, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, and another hostage were rescued from Islamic State-inspired terrorists during a battle with government forces on Saturday night, Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said on Sunday.

Soganub and Lordvin Acopio, a teacher at Dansalan College, were rescued at around 11 p.m. on Saturday, Dureza, quoting former Iligan City Mayor Franklin Quijano, said in a post on Facebook.

“It’s confirmed we got him already,” Dureza told the Inquirer by phone, though he did not have details of the rescue.

Rear Adm. Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (Navforwem), said he had received confirmation of the rescue from his “ground operators” in Marawi.

Quoting the information he had received, Medina said Soganub and Acopio managed to escape from their captors during fighting in the vicinity of Bato Ali mosque in Marawi.

Enemy hub captured

Bato Ali mosque is the command center of the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists who have been battling government forces for control of Marawi since late May.

The military said it captured the terrorists’ command center in a deadly operation that began on Saturday.

It said nothing about the rescue of Soganub, whom the terrorists seized with dozens of other civilians as they rampaged across Marawi on May 23. But military press officers said there was an “ongoing rescue operation in the main battle area.”

“We cannot give you details as of now lest we imperil the lives not only of our soldiers but more so that of the hostages,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. would not confirm the reported rescue of Soganub and Acopio.

Malacañang asked the public to pray for the safe rescue of the remaining hostages, although it declined to comment on the report about the rescue of Soganub and Acopio.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the military had advised the Palace not to comment on the developments in Marawi, including the reported rescue of the two hostages.

But relatives of Soganub in Iloilo City rejoiced at the news of his rescue and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ news service carried reports of it.

Medina said Soganub and Acopio had told troops who rescued them that they escaped while their captors were engaged in heavy fighting with government forces in the Bato Ali mosque area.

“And in the course of fleeing, they were identified by the military and they were brought to a safe place,” Medina said.

A source told the Inquirer that Soganub and Acopio were found in front of Building Zulu 17 in Sangcay village around 11:40 p.m. on Saturday.

They were recovered by troops from the 6th Special Forces Company and the 3rd Scout Rangers, the source said.

Government troops also captured the Jamaitul Islamia Marawi Foundation (JIMF) building during the operation.

“It was a fiercely fought five hours before government security forces subdued the terrorists who were strategically located in the buildings in the periphery of the mosque and JIMF,” Gen. Eduardo Año, AFP chief of staff, said in a statement sent to reporters on Sunday.

“This enormous [military] gain further weakened the terrorist group by denying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” Año said.

“As follow-up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight,” he said. “We are ready for that.”

Heaviest resistance

Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the terrorists, said the military had encountered some of heaviest resistance in recovering the mosque.

Its capture may be a sign that the prolonged fighting with the terrorists whose leaders had pledged allegiance to IS, may be nearing a conclusion, Brawner said.

“We believe we are close to the end. The area where the Maute terrorist group can move is shrinking. We noticed that their resistance is weakening,” he said.

“They are retreating while we are assaulting but in the process of doing so, we are encountering many improvised explosive devices so we cannot just advance. We have to be very careful,” he said. With reports from Jerome Aning, Nestor P. Burgos, and Agence France-Presse

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