Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, was a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The FBI “has confirmed that the DNA sample taken from a body recovered by our operating units in Marawi matches that of Isnilon Hapilon,” Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Saturday.
“This process of verification is also being conducted on the cadavers of the other terrorists that have been recovered so far.”
Lamont Siller, the FBI’s legal attaché at the US Embassy in Manila, confirmed the news. “Yes that’s correct,” he told Arab News.
Siller said the FBI is still working to confirm the death of Omar Maute, who along with his brother Abdullah formed the group that attacked and held parts of Marawi City since May 23.
The military earlier announced the killing of Hapilon and Omar as government forces made a final push to reclaim Marawi and end the nearly five-month siege of the country’s only Islamic city by the Daesh-backed Maute group.
Hapilon is said to have served in several senior positions in the ASG since at least 1997. The ASG has a reputation for brutality, including beheading its kidnap victims.
He gained international notoriety in 2001 for his involvement in the abduction of 20 tourists — including three Americans identified as Guillermo Sobero, and Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple — from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.
Sobero was beheaded as a “birthday present” for then-Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Martin died in the crossfire during a rescue attempt by Philippine troops in June 2002. Gracia was injured, but was rescued and repatriated to the US.
According to information from the US Department of Justice, Hapilon was indicted in the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts against American and other foreign nationals in and around the Philippines. A $5-million bounty was placed on his head.
In 2014, Hapilon and his faction pledged allegiance to Daesh, but it was not until 2016 that he was acknowledged by the terrorist organization as its leader in Southeast Asia.
Daesh reportedly made direct contact with Hapilon in late 2016, instructing him to find an area to establish a caliphate in the southern Philippines.
On Wednesday, the military said Hapilon and Omar were trying to escape war-torn Marawi and abandon their own men when they were killed by government troops. Omar was killed by a sniper headshot, and Hapilon by three bullets to his chest.
They led the Marawi siege, which left more than 1,000 people dead, including 897 militants, 47 civilians and 164 government troops. More than 350,000 residents have been displaced.
One day after the deaths of Hapilon and Omar, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City free of terrorists. Despite this, operations continue to flush out terrorists in the city.
On Wednesday night, another high-value target, Malaysia’s most wanted terrorist Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, was killed by government forces.
Ahmad, whose body has yet to be recovered, had been touted as a possible successor to Hapilon as Daesh’s emir in Southeast Asia.
Experts say Daesh has suffered a major setback in East Asia with the deaths of Hapilon and Omar.
“It’s a huge blow to Daesh... and any dreams it has of establishing a caliphate here,” Steve Cutler, an international security analyst and former head of the FBI in Manila, told Arab News. “Their replacements won’t be the charismatic leaders of the caliber of these two.”
But political analyst Ramon Casiple told Arab News that their deaths are a “temporary setback for Daesh” that will not stop it from pursuing its agenda.
“Daesh is a regional organization,” Casiple said, adding that the loss of Hapilon and Omar does not mean it has no more supporters or sympathizers in the Philippines.