MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Over a dozen more terrorists were killed in Marawi City as government troops continued their assault to flush out what they call "stragglers" inside the battle area.
Colonel Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Group Ranao, said on Thursday, October 19, that 13 terrorists were killed in operations on Wednesday night, October 18.
A Rappler source on the ground said up to 27 terrorists have been killed in heavy fighting that started Wednesday. Fourteen more bodies were reportedly retrieved on Thursday.
The military is checking if Malaysia's top terrorist Dr Mahmud Ahmad was among the dead.
Brawner said they could not yet confirm the death of Mahmud as the information came from two hostages rescued Wednesday night. They said Mahmud "could have been killed," according to Brawner.
"But in the absence of bodies and SOCO [Scene of the Crime Operatives] report, the military could not say if Mahmud is really killed," he added.
Brawner also said some of the terrorists killed were hit by sniper fire but their bodies have not yet been retrieved.
"We don't have all the cadavers yet, so no confirmation on Dr Mahmud," he said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año, however, said the AFP is "increasingly becoming confident that he was among those who have been killed during yesterday's (Wednesday's) operations."
"Enemy resistance is still organized and well entrenched," Brawner also said. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance in the battle area still number in the thousands, added Brawner, and the military does not have a timeframe for clearing all of them.
Terrorists, who are willing to die, have been "using hostages as human shields." The military is unsure who their leader is.
Año said they were able to rescue a mother and her teenaged daughter early Thursday. Both are out of danger, even as about 20 more hostages remain in the area. (READ: The life of a Maute hostage in Marawi)
About 6 soldiers were wounded in the operation but they are safe too, suffering only minor wounds.
Malacañang, for its part, said it is still "verifying reports" of Mahmud's death and can give "no official confirmation" until the military identifies the terrorist leader's body.
Mahmud is reportedly among the top financiers of the attack. He supposedly channeled at least P30 million ($600,000) to finance the attack in Marawi City, the military said.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared the "liberation" of Marawi from "terrorist influence" on Tuesday, October 17. Año said, "Troop morale remains very high and motivation to finish the fight is at its highest." – with reports from Bobby Lagsa and Carmela Fonbuena / Rappler.com