Malaysians, Indonesians, fighting alongside IS-linked rebels in Marawi

Claudine Rigal
Juin 1, 2017

Philippine military jets fired rockets at militant positions yesterday as soldiers fought to wrest control of a southern city from gunmen linked to Isis (Islamic State), witnesses said.

Fighting between government forces and the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao, began Tuesday afternoon in Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners are fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi, including Indonesians and Malaysians.

Tens of thousands of residents have fled the violence raging through Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the primarily Catholic Philippines.

Government troops check a vehicle evacuating residents from their hometown of Marawi city in southern Philippines, as it drives past a military checkpoint in Pantar town, Lanao Del Norte, Philippines May 24, 2017.

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.

Martial law will be in effect on the Muslim-majority southern Philippines island for 60 days "to suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety", said Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, according to the Philippine News Agency.

Adressing troops in Illigan to the north of Marawi yesterday he said: "You can arrest any person, search any house without warrant".

"President Duterte's bold and decisive action is imperative in quelling the rebellion in the region, halting the escalating inhumane atrocities by the extremists, as well as insuring our national security and the safety of Filipinos, and demonstrating the government's resolve in combating worldwide terrorism", Valera said.

"And if you can not be convinced to stop fighting, so be it. Let's just fight", he said.

Hapilon has sworn allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. "We were sure they would get to us", he said.

"Right now, he is still inside (the city)", Gen. Eduardo Ano told the AP. But the recent bloodshed in Marawi has raised fears that extremism is growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.

Fifteen soldiers, two policemen and 61 militants have died in the fighting, according to authorities.

Ano said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. Security experts say Mindanao could become a draw for regional extremists and the Maute's alignment with Islamic State and its ability to take on the military could support moves to secure funding and recruit foreign and local fighters.

That there is no sign the Maute is getting material resources from the Islamic State is a point the military maintains.

The United States regards Isnilon as one of the world's most unsafe terrorists, offering a bounty of US$5mil (RM21.3mil) for his capture.

"Latest information indicates that about 75 percent of Marawi City has been infiltrated by lawless armed groups composed of members of the Maute Group and the ASG", Duterte said.

He added at a press conference: "Before it was just a local terrorist group".

The President's military and security men are scheduled to appear before Congress to explain the basis of the President in placing the entire Mindanao island under martial law. Martial law was last declared nationwide in 1972, when then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos used it to preserve his grasp on power for over a decade.

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