Filipino troops, gunships fight militants in southern city

Jane Richards
May 27, 2017

Hapilon's whereabouts were not clear, but there was no indication he was captured in the raid.

(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez). Teachers who were trapped in the siege by Muslim militants of Marawi city comfort each other as they wait for their transport back to their hometowns in southern Philippines for the third day Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, giving a pep talk to his troops in the country's restive south, exhorted the soldiers to go all out in fighting Islamic militants, but he said he's willing to sit down with his enemies and talk peace. "And if you can not be convinced to stop fighting, so be it. Let's just fight". "If there's an open defiance you will die", Duterte warned. "And if it means many people dying, so be it". The violence sent thousands of people fleeing and raised fears of extremists gaining traction in the country.

Hundreds of civilians, including children, were sheltering in a military camp in Marawi City on Thursday.

Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict director Sidney Jones, an expert on Asian jihadist movements, said Hapilon was endorsed by the IS as its "amir", or top leader for Southeast Asia.

"At night we can hear the gunfire".

"That's why we are appealing to you now while there's still time, to exercise your common sense, he said. I hope that the bombs will not land nearby and harm us".

Although much of the city was sealed off, disturbing details were trickling out.

Mr Duterte said on Wednesday that one of the policemen killed was caught at a checkpoint set up by the militants, before being beheaded.

Helicopters circled the city, peppering Maute positions with machine gun fire to try to force them from a bridge vital to retaking Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 where fighters had torched and seized a school, a jail and a cathedral, and took more than a dozen hostages.

The Associated Press describes Marawi as a "no-go zone" following Duterte's order to establish martial law over his native Mindanao and the surrounding region, noting that at least 21 people have died since the Maute terrorists overran the city on Tuesday.

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.

Human rights groups have expressed fears that martial law powers could further embolden Duterte, who is accused of allowing the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people in his crackdown on illegal drugs.

Hapilon, an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher known for his expertise in commando assaults, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014.

Gunmen are trying to find a way to extricate Hapilon, who suffered a stroke after a government airstrike wounded him in January, Ano said.

Filipino villagers fleeing with their belongings as fighting between Maute militants and government forces continued in Marawi.

The Maute group is one of the less than a dozen new armed groups that have pledged allegiance to Daesh and formed a loose alliance in the southern Philippines in recent years. He said they are claiming Mindanao as part of the caliphate. "The Mautes are embedded in the population".

Government troops conduct check point along a highway leading to Marawi three days after Muslim militants lay siege in Marawi city, the southern Philippines, Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Other reports by VgToday

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