Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a five-month long battle against Daesh militants in the south of the country has ended.

Philippine marines aboard their truck flash the victory sign as they start their pull-out from the main battle area in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on October 19, 2017.
Philippine marines aboard their truck flash the victory sign as they start their pull-out from the main battle area in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on October 19, 2017. (AFP)

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared the last of the pro-Daesh group's militants in southern Marawi city "finished" on Monday, exactly five months after the start of the siege that sparked fears of the group gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia.

Speaking at an annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, Lorenzana told reporters that troops recovered 42 bodies of the last group of militants.

"Those are the last group of stragglers of Mautes, and they were caught in one building, so there was a firefight, so they were finished," he said.

Two security officials had said earlier on Monday that troops had found the bodies after capturing the building where the militants made their final stand.

Lorenzana said the last hostages the militants had been holding were recovered earlier.

"There are no more militants inside Marawi City," he said.

Praise from US

The siege had sparked fears the Daesh group would influence and strengthen local militancies while losing ground in Syria and Iraq. 

The defeat of the Daesh-linked uprising and the deaths of its leaders have been a relief to the region.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis congratulated the Philippine army for its successes against militants in the southern city of Marawi.

Mattis arrived early Monday at an airbase that once of the home of US air forces known as Clark field. He will be attending meetings with counterparts from 10 Southeast Asian nations. 

In brief remarks to reporters flying with him from Washington, Mattis praised the Philippine military for its counterterrorism efforts in Marawi.

"The Philippine military has sent a very necessary message to the terrorists," Mattis said.

ASEAN summit

Fighting terrorism is high on the agenda of the ASEAN meeting in Clark, north of Manila.

As the meetings opened, the head of the Brunei delegation expressed condolences for the loss of lives in Marawi but congratulated the Philippines for being able to liberate the city.

"We have to be very careful. What happened in Marawi can happen anywhere," Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Hundreds of militants, many waving Daesh group-style black flags, launched the siege on May 23 in Marawi, a bastion of Muslims in the south of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines by seizing the lakeside city's central business district and outlying communities.

They ransacked banks and shops, including gun stores, looted houses and smashed statues in a Roman Catholic cathedral, according to the military.

The fighting has left at least 1,131 people dead, including 919 militants and 165 soldiers and police. 

At least 1,780 of the hostages seized by the militants, including a Roman Catholic priest, were rescued.

The final group of 20 captives were freed overnight, Army Colonel Romeo Brawner said at a news conference on Sunday.

That left the gunmen with none of the hostages they had used as human shields to slow the military advance for months.

Damaged buildings beside a mosque are seen after government troops declare victory in Marawi city, southern Philippines, October 23, 2017.
Damaged buildings beside a mosque are seen after government troops declare victory in Marawi city, southern Philippines, October 23, 2017. (Reuters)

Militant leaders

The disastrous uprising, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of Marawi residents, erupted as the Philippines was hosting the ASEAN summit this year, along with the 10-nation bloc's Asian and Western counterparts, including the United States and Australia.

The two governments have deployed surveillance aircraft and drones to help Filipino troops rout the Marawi militants.

Last week, troops killed the final two surviving leaders of the siege, including Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed among the FBI's most-wanted terror suspects in the world, and Omarkhayam Maute.

Following their deaths, President Rodrigo Duterte traveled near the main scene of the battle and declared Marawi had been essentially liberated.

DNA tests done in the United States requested by the Philippine military have confirmed the death of Hapilon, according to the US Embassy in Manila.

Washington has offered a bounty of up to $5 million for Hapilon, who had been blamed for kidnappings for ransom of American nationals and other terrorist attacks.

Among the foreign militants believed to be with the remaining gunmen in Marawi were Malaysian militant Amin Baco and an Indonesian known only as Qayyim.

Both have plotted attacks and provided combat training to local militants for years but have eluded capture in the south.

Lorenzana said Monday the identities of the final 42 bodies had not been determined and some were beyond recognition.

Hundreds of houses and buildings have been damaged during the five-month battle in Marawi and more than 300,000 people fled the city.
Hundreds of houses and buildings have been damaged during the five-month battle in Marawi and more than 300,000 people fled the city. (Reuters)
Source: TRTWorld and agencies