MARAWI // Philippine troops have killed 89 militants during more than a week of urban battles but a final showdown is expected to be fierce as the gunmen protect their leaders and hold hostages, authorities said on Wednesday.
Attack helicopters fired rockets on Wednesday into parts of Marawi, a Muslim city in the south of the predominantly Catholic Philippines, that were still controlled by the militants fighting under the black flag of ISIL.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the entire southern region of Mindanao in response to the crisis, which he described as the start of a major campaign by ISIL to establish a foothold in the Philippines.
The amount of territory in the city that the remaining gunmen controlled had been cut to just 10 per cent, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said on Wednesday.
He said 960 civilians have been rescued, and about 1,000 residents remain trapped in the city. The dead include 89 militants, 19 civilians and 21 government forces, he said.
Another eight militants surrendered and Gen Padilla said they provided “very, very valuable intelligence” during questioning.
However, he warned of more intense battles ahead, with the military believing three of the militants’ main leaders were likely still in the city.
“That 10 per cent is most likely the area that is heavily guarded and defended by any armed men if they are protecting any individual of high value,” Gen Padilla said.
The militants are also holding an unknown number of civilians hostage, according to Gen Padilla. They initially took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage at the start of the crisis.
A video of the priest appeared on social media on Tuesday, in which he repeated the militants’ demands to withdraw and said his captors were holding 240 people hostage.
Gen Padilla said the number of people cited in the video as being held hostage could not be verified.
He insisted the release of the footage showed the militants were becoming increasingly desperate and said security forces would not back down.
“They are trapped, they are contained, they are in areas that they will never come up alive unless they surrender,” he said.
Another complication was the safety of about 2,000 residents who the local government said remained trapped in the militant-controlled areas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Wednesday for a humanitarian ceasefire to save them.
“I think it’s horrific for the civilian people who are in there and we really hope that both sides can agree that the civilians should be given the opportunity to come out,” the deputy head of the ICRC’s Philippine delegation, Martin Thalmann, said in Marawi.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press