Philippine security forces bomb southern city in battle with ISIL-linked militants

An initial rampage by gunmen through the mainly Muslim city of Marawi on Tuesday prompted president Rodrigo Duterte to impose martial law across the southern third of the Philippines. The gunmen have pledged allegiance to ISIL.

MARAWI // Philippine security forces bombed residential areas of a southern city on Thursday as they battled ISIL-linked militants who were holding hostages and were reported to have murdered at least 11 civilians.

An initial rampage by gunmen through the mainly Muslim city of Marawi on Tuesday prompted president Rodrigo Duterte to impose martial law across the southern third of the Philippines. The gunmen have pledged allegiance to ISIL.

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because although there were only 30 to 40 militants remaining in the city, they were moving nimbly through homes and had planted bombs in the streets, in addition to holding hostages.

Authorities said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been killed in the three days of fighting, while the military said another 39 soldiers had been wounded.

Intense gunfighting could be heard constantly throughout the day on Thursday, and the military said it had dropped bombs on residential neighbourhoods.

“We are using surgical airstrikes,” local military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said in Marawi, shortly before big clouds of black smoke rose from a bombed area near the provincial government building.

Most of Marawi’s 200,000 residents had already fled the city, which is about 800 kilometres south of Manila. But Lt Col Herrera said those who remained had been warned to get out of the areas where there was bombing and fighting.

“We are requesting our people in Marawi to go to safe places ... and to stay indoors,” he said.

Lt Col Herrera said two civilians were killed inside a hospital that the gunmen were occupying on Tuesday, and that the military was investigating reports of nine people being murdered at a checkpoint set up by the militants.

The militants are also holding between 12 and 15 Catholic hostages abducted from a church, according to the local bishop, Edwin Dela Pena.

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

The fighting in Marawi erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group and the Philippine head of ISIL, was hiding.

The United States, which regards Hapilon as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, has offered a bounty of US$5 million (Dh18.4m) for his capture.

The raid went spectacularly wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, before going on a rampage across the city while flying black ISIL flags.

The gunmen belong to the Maute group, which, along with Hapilon’s faction of the Abu Sayyaf, has pledged allegiance to ISIL, authorities said.

The militants raided two jails, leading to the escape of more than 100 inmates, according to Mujiv Hataman, the governor of a Muslim self-ruled area that includes Marawi.

They also set fire to many buildings, including a church and a university.

An enraged Mr Duterte declared martial law shortly after the fighting erupted, saying it was required throughout the southern region of Mindanao, which is home to 20 million people.

* Agence France-Presse

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