June 22, 2018

Philippine troops battle IS-linked gunmen in southern city

25 May 2017, 01:47 | Erin Grant

Muslim extremists in the Philippines have taken a local Catholic priest and others hostage after forcing their way into a cathedral in the southern city of Marawi.

Catholic Bishops' of the Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Socrates Villegas earlier said that Suganob was abducted while performing his ministry as a priest at St. Mary's Church, a parish church in Marawi City.

Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, an army spokesman, said the military was acting on information that Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, was among the militants hiding in the apartment in Marawi City.

President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law across Mindanao, saying he would use tough measures to prevent a "contamination" by extremists in the region, which comprises one-third of the sprawling, Catholic-majority Philippines.

Martial law was last declared in 2009 by the then president, Gloria Arroyo, in Maguindanao, part of Mindanao, after dozens were killed in election-related violence.

"I'm appealing to residents of Marawi City to stay home, drop on the ground if they hear gunshots", Mamintal Adiong Jr, the governor of the Lanao del Sur province told The Philippine Star newspaper.

Despite the repeated military announcements that the situation is stable in Marawi City, thousands of Marawi locals boarded their private vehicles and moved out of the City heading towards Iligan City or the municipality of Malabang which they believed is safer. "There will be no guarantee that it will not last until the end of my term", Duterte said.

The military said it had rescued 120 people from a school and a hospital and was trying to isolate Maute fighters while awaiting reinforcements that were being blocked by rebels.

This photo taken on May 15, 2017 shows Philippine soldiers standing next to a dead body of one of the two Abu Sayyaf militants killed in an encounter with troops in Calape town, Bohol province, central Philippines. He was also furious that the Maute group had hoisted the flag of Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, who joined Mr. Abella in the media interview, confirmed that Maute militants have occupied some establishments in Marawi City like Amai Pakpak Medical Center, the City Hall, and the city jail.

The 60-day martial law declaration will allow government forces to carry out searches and arrests and detain suspects without warrants.

"We will continue to provide updates as often as possible with due regard to the security of our operating forces and the conduct of the operations itself", he added. We can do that easily, " Ano said, but added it was more hard in an urban setting because of the need to avoid civilian casualties. He has repeatedly threatened to place the south, the scene of decades-long Muslim separatist uprisings, under martial law.

President Rodrigo Duterte is on his official visit to Russian Federation.

There were also pockets of fighting as the Maute Group burned down two government buildings before withdrawing.

The government has blamed the Maute for a bombing in September 2016 at a street market in Duterte's hometown of Davao City, which killed 14 people and wounded dozens.

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