Copies of Koran, boots and scarves all that remain in Philippine rebel leader's lair

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) - Prayer mats, checkered scarves, black fatigues, and bullet-ridden walls mark the hideout where the "emir" of Islamic State in Southeast Asia spent months preparing the most brazen and devastating militant attack in the region.

A four-story house in a quiet alley of Marawi City in the southern Philippines was the secret lair of Isnilon Hapilon until late May. After a botched military raid to apprehend him, a thousand-strong rebel alliance held large parts of the city for five months.

Hapilon's death in a military operation elsewhere in Marawi on Oct. 16 was the catalyst for the end of Philippines' longest and most intense urban battle in recent history. 

14 PHOTOS
Pro-Islamic State militant group leader's hideout in the Philippines
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Pro-Islamic State militant group leader's hideout in the Philippines
A bullet-riddled apartment house, believed to have been rented by IS-inspired Muslim militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their seige of Marawi city, is seen at a residential area in Marawi in southern island of Mindanao on October 26, 2017, days after the military declared the fighting against IS-inspired Muslim militants over. The main battle area of a southern Philippine city where Islamic State supporters waged a five-month war resembled a tsunami-hit wasteland, while bullet-riddled mosques and a web of tunnels reveal some of the gunmen's hid and strike tactics. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the local town security forces carries personal belongings while walking in front of a bullet-riddled apartment house in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A member of the local town security forces inspects a damaged apartment house located in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A member of the local town security forces inspects personal belongings inside a damaged apartment house in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A bullet-riddled apartment house located in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A member of the local town security forces inspects a damaged room in an apartment house in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Personal belongings are scattered inside a damaged room of an apartment house located in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Personal belongings are scattered inside an apartment house located in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
People walk in front of a bullet-riddled apartment house in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A member of the local town security forces carries personal belongings while walking in front of a bullet-riddled apartment house in a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A bullet-riddled room of an apartment house located at a residential area in Malutlut district, Marawi city, southern Philippines October 27, 2017, which was believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their battle in Marawi city. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A bullet-riddled room of an apartment house, believed to have been rented by IS-inspired Muslim militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their seige of Marawi city, is seen at a residential area in Marawi in southern island of Mindanao on October 26, 2017, days after the military declared the fighting against IS-inspired Muslim militants over. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
A bullet-riddled apartment house, believed to have been rented by IS-inspired Muslim militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute before their seige of Marawi city, is seen at a residential area in Marawi in southern island of Mindanao on October 26, 2017, days after the military declared the fighting against IS-inspired Muslim militants over. The main battle area of a southern Philippine city where Islamic State supporters waged a five-month war resembled a tsunami-hit wasteland, while bullet-riddled mosques and a web of tunnels reveal some of the gunmen's hid and strike tactics. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Security forces moved in on the house on May 23, trying to capture the country's most wanted man, but came under sustained attack from rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades.

A bomb-battered structure, shattered windows and wall-to-wall holes from machine gun fire tell the story of the ferocious three-day battle that erupted at Hapilon's hideout, and prompted the call to hundreds of fighters to expedite the planned takeover of Marawi.

Hapilon escaped through a large hole that was blasted out of a rear wall, making his way across a rice field to a mosque next to the vast Lake Lanao. From there, he joined the guerrillas who held the heart of the city for the next five months.

Community volunteers on Thursday showed Reuters the house in the now empty, narrow street where the military believes Hapilon had lain low for several months. All other properties were intact and neighbors had fled long ago.

"At the time, no one knew who these people were, people saw them about but there was no reason to suspect anything," said Mohammed Seddick Raki, who lived nearby.

Other volunteers said women and children stayed at the rented house and visitors were frequent.

Children's' shoes were scattered amid the debris and a woman's robe was hanging from a window.

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What remains of Marawi
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What remains of Marawi
A damaged mosque is seen in Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Government soldiers stand in front of damaged houses and buildings in Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged houses, buildings and a mosque are seen inside Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A graffiti that reads "I love ISIS" is seen in a damaged building in Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
A government soldier stands guard in front of damaged buildings in Marawi city October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged buildings and houses are seen in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged buildings and houses are seen in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Government troops with their belongings walk towards waiting vehicles during a send-off ceremony ending their combat duty against pro-Islamic State militant groups inside military headquarters in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Government soldiers stay in a damaged building in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged buildings are seen inside a war-torn area in Marawi City, southern Philippines October 24, 2017, after the Philippines announced on Monday the end of five months of military operations in a southern city held by pro-Islamic State rebels. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A government soldier stands guard in front of damaged buildings in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged houses and buildings are seen in Marawi city, southern Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Government soldiers wave during a send-off ceremony ending their combat duty against pro-Islamic State groups outside military headquarters in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged buildings and houses are seen in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Government soldiers stand guard in front of damaged buildings and a mosque in Marawi city, Philippines October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Damaged houses, buildings and a mosque are seen in Marawi city, Philippines, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
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BATTLE READY

Inside the house, black shirts, pants and plaid scarves synonymous with Islamic State were strewn across rooms littered with broken floor tiles and chunks of rock from blasted walls.

Left behind were waterproof boots, a balaclava, medical supplies and camouflage bags and waistcoats typically used by soldiers to carry rifle magazines.

Coated in a think layer of dust on floors of every room were pocket-sized copies of the Koran, some with pages stained by water leaked through gaping holes in the roof.

The deputy task force commander in Marawi, Colonel Romeo Brawner, said Hapilon evaded security forces because rebels had a network of lookouts and gunmen ready to defend him.

"They put up heavy resistance, they were spread across a large area. They were strategically placed," he said. "They were prepared for it."

Hapilon's escape in the last week of May led to anarchy in the city of about 200,000. Rebels took hostages, set fire to buildings, ransacked churches, broke into the local jail to free inmates and looted an armory.

The government had insufficient security forces in Marawi to prevent the fighters from fanning out across the city and seizing hundreds of buildings.

Hapilon was wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and had a bounty on his head of up to $5 million. He was killed by army rangers in a night operation and his body was retrieved from the battle zone in the heart of the city and his identity confirmed by the FBI's DNA analysis.

In five months of intense urban battle, the heart of Marawi was all but destroyed by government air strikes and shelling that leveled commercial areas and crushed thousands of shops, homes and vehicles.

"No one could have known what would happen," said Mohamed Faisal Mama, a resident in the same Basak Malutlot district where Hapilon was hiding.

"No one knew them. They weren't famous then."

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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