AFP Chief: Rescue of abducted priest in Marawi an intelligence project

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief said the rescue of the abducted Catholic priest in Marawi was an intelligence project by the military.

"The rescue of Father (Chito) Soganub is a very deliberate effort. It's an intelligence project supported by our combat operations," AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said in a press briefing Tuesday.

Fr. Teresito "Chito" Suganob was rescued Saturday along with Lordbin Noblesa Acopio of Iloilo City, during military attempts to take over Bato mosque, a stronghold of ISIS-inspired group Maute in Marawi City.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that around 11.45 p.m., troops were able to snatch Suganob and Acopio as terrorists fled to structures in the mosque's periphery.

"I extend my commendations to the operating troops for this excellent job," he said.

Soganub briefly appeared before reporters for a photograph, saying, "Salamat sa lahat [Thank you to everyone], saka I pray for you, God bless you all. Pray for me, through my recovery."

The priest also claimed he is physically strong and sound.

Soganub will be accompanied by doctors and nurses to check the state of his health after his time in captivity.

Rescue operations

Efforts to rescue the Catholic priest started as early as Sept. 13, Año said.

"I gave the go signal to assault Bato mosque so we can implement the extraction of Fr. Suganob while there is fighting," Año said.

He also explained the military held back information on Soganub's rescue  to avoid compromising rescue efforts for the remaining 12 to 24 hostages held captive in the mosque.

The AFP chief added they will continue rescuing hostages, by clearing chambers and tunnels running under the Maute-held mosque.

He also repeated previous reports that Omar is the only Maute leader left alive, as his brother Abdullah, and the two other leaders have already been killed in action.

Defense Secretary Lorenzana added that government forces only need to clear about 10 hectares left to liberate the city.

Soganub's rescue brings the civilian retrieval count to 1,730 as of September 18, while 47 civilians have been killed. Lorenzana added 673 terrorists have been neutralized, while there are 149 government troops killed action.

"Your government forces, the AFP, the PNP, the Philippine Coast Guard will remain strong, able and committed to defeat all threats to national security. And I mean all threats, foreign or domestic," he said.

Hostages in Maute-ISIS garments

The AFP Chief also confirmed reports from Task Force Marawi Sunday that some hostages were being used to fight government troops.

"Alam natin na 'yung ibang hostages doon ay sinuotan nila ng Maute-ISIS na damit, saka binigyan ng firearm," Año claimed.

[Translation: We know some of the hostages were made to dress Maute-ISIS clothes, and were given firearms.]

Read more: Task Force Marawi: Maute hostages forced to fight gov't troops

But Año clarified that they give the fighters a chance to drop their firearms, and if they do so, they would be accepted by the military "unharmed".

Last Sunday, Task Force Marawi Deputy Commander Romeo Brawner said if hostages fired at goverment troops, they will be considered as '"combatants" and treated as such.