KOTA KINABALU: Eight foreigners are among 40 militants still remaining in Marawi city, southern Philippines, the nation’s military has said.
Philippine security forces did not say if Malaysians were among them, but Malaysian police still believe five of them remain holed up in the besieged city.
Philippine armed forces chief Eduardo Ano was reported as saying Sunday that the foreign fighters had assumed leadership roles among the local militants.
This is based on accounts from local residents, he said.
Earlier reports stated that dozens of bodies, including foreign-looking ones, were recovered in hideouts reclaimed by troops.
DNA tests are being conducted to identify them.
Philippine security agencies have also received from the Malaysian embassy a photo of Mahmud Ahmad, the nation’s most wanted militant, to help determine if one of the bodies was him.
But coroners in southern Philippines were reported as saying it was difficult to physically identify the bodies due to their heavily injured and decomposed state.
But security agencies said there was no mistaking the fighters’ bodies for that of civilians as they were found wearing military gear.
“We still believe there are four to five Malaysians still fighting in Marawi,” Malaysian Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun told FMT.
“There were reports from the field that some of them had been killed but our Philippine counterpart has not given us confirmation of their deaths.
“So we consider them still fighting there.”
Lecturer-turned-militant Mahmud, who was reported to have been trained at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, and Sabahans Mohd Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil, are among Malaysians thought to be still in Marawi.
Two more Malaysians possibly still in Marawi are Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and another nicknamed “Pendek”.
Jeknal and Joraimee were reported to have been killed but Malaysian police still want them.
“Their deaths have yet to be confirmed, so we consider them still alive,” Fuzi said.
Latest reports cited security forces as saying that rescued hostages had claimed the leader of the pro-Islamic State Abu Sayyaf group, Isnilon Hapilon, and leader of the Maute group, Omar Maute, were still alive.
The Philippine government said it is hoping to fully reclaim Marawi city from the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups in a week.
More than 750 militants, 155 troops and 47 civilians have been killed in the clashes that began on May 23.