Philippines says fight with islamic state militants nearing end

Claudine Rigal
Mai 29, 2017

Islamist militants locked in street-to-street battles with security forces in a southern Philippine city have killed 19 civilians, the military said Sunday, bringing the official death toll from almost a week of fighting to at least 85. This brings the combined official death toll to at least 85.

A paper sign attached to one of the men indicated that the victims had "betrayed their faith", the police said.

The Maute fighters quickly took over much of the city, torching a cathedral and hospital, among other buildings, and posting snipers to keep government troops at bay.

He made an unconventional offer on Saturday to Muslim separatists and communist rebels to join his fight against extremists, and said he would give them the same pay and benefits as government troops.

The crisis in Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has grown increasingly dire as the militants show unexpected strength, fending off a military that has unleashed attack helicopters, armored vehicles and scores of soldiers.

Later on Tuesday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared the entire island of Mindanao under martial rule for 60 days and cut short his five-day visit to Moscow.

In recent years, small militant groups have emerged in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and have begun unifying under the banner of the Islamic State group.

The crisis has claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 18 government troops and 61 extremists, according to presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, making it the worst in the Mindanao region in nearly four years.

"You can say that the Daesh is here already", Duterte told soldiers in nearby Iligan City.

"The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) focus continues on safely clearing Marawi of terrorist elements still holed up within pockets of the city", AFP spokesperson Brig.

"Have mercy on us, we don't have any more water to drink", read one of the messages, sent to a hotline set up for trapped residents.

The violence erupted in response to a failed attempt by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who the government believes is Islamic State's point-man in the Philippines.

Hapilon is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to extricate him, said the Philippines' military chief, Gen. Eduardo Ano.

A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage.

In a statement, the White House condemned the violence "perpetrated by an ISIS-linked terrorist group", referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh. He now heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that "contamination by ISIS" loomed in the country's future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

Maute militants have pledged allegiance to Islamic State and have been battling government troops since laying siege to a southern city six days ago.

The US has placed a US$5 million (RM23 million) bounty for Hapilon's capture who they described to be the world's most unsafe terrorist.

Deputy Asia director at HRW Phelim Kine said while Maute and the Islamist armed group Abu Sayyaf threatened the security of people in parts of Mindanao, martial law was a drastic move.

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