MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops have recovered 22 bodies of suspected Muslim extremists and dozens of homemade bombs from two buildings that were retaken in one of the final government assaults to end an Islamic State group-inspired siege in southern Marawi city, the military said Wednesday.
The discovery of the bodies brought the death toll in the siege, which was launched May 23, to more than a thousand people, including 802 militants. The fighting has left 160 soldiers and policemen and 47 civilians dead, according to the military.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said troops overcame days of militant sniper and grenade fire before they took back control of the buildings Tuesday and found the bodies, along with eight rifles and "dozens and dozens of improvised explosive devices."
An army lieutenant who was to get married soon was killed in the fighting to retake the area, Padilla said.
He said it's possible that some of the leaders of the siege, which has dragged on for more than four months, were among the 22 slain men. Police forensic experts were trying to identify the bodies, which include a foreign-looking man, army Col. Romeo Brawner said.
"The militants put up one of their fiercest defenses in the area," Padilla said.
He said the military was trying to retake control of the last district of about 150 buildings and houses held by about 40 gunmen with about 42 hostages. Top generals have estimated that the siege could be crushed within a week or two but Padilla refused to set a date.
Airstrikes and army artillery fire continued to pound militant positions Wednesday in Marawi, a mosque-studded center of Islamic faith in the largely Roman Catholic nation's south.
The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance aircraft and drones to help Filipino troops counter the siege, which has sparked concerns that the Islamic State group is attempting to gain a foothold in the region amid battle defeats in Syria and Iraq. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south through the end of the year to quell the militant insurrection, the worst crisis of his presidency.