Philippines using helicopters to clear militants

Duterte placed all of the southern region of Mindanao, which makes up roughly one third of the country and is home to 20 million people, under martial law, spokesman Ernesto Abella said in the nationally televised briefing.

About 100 militants roamed through Marawi city, taking a priest and an unspecified number of other people hostage from a church, setting fire to buildings and flying black IS flags, Duterte and his aides said.

Philippine troops aboard helicopters and in armoured tanks battled Islamist militants inside a southern city on Thursday, as reports emerged of the gunmen murdering civilians.

Less than a year after Duterte assumed office, more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users had died, rights groups have said.

"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people", said the President, who cut short a visit to Russian Federation to come home to deal with the violence.

Marcos himself declared martial law in 1972, using the maneuver to help him maintain his grasp on power for almost a decade.

He said many were hiding in buildings as snipers, making it hard for security forces to combat them.

Duterte's declaration fulfilled an often-repeated promise to impose martial law to combat the IS-linked militants, whom he has said are a growing threat to national security.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declares martial law on the island of Mindanao after deadly clashes between militants and troops.

Putin also expressed his condolences over the killing of two soldiers and one police officer after the Islamic State-aligned Maute Group occupied parts of Marawi City.

The UN regards Hapilon as one of the world's most risky terrorists, offering a US$5 million bounty for his capture.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law on the island of Mindanao, where militants have taken over much of the largest city of Marawi, and cut short a state visit to Moscow in order to return to Manila.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the gunmen have threatened to kill the hostages "if government forces unleashed against them are not recalled".

RESIDENTS of Marawi City have left the city in droves, clogging road with cars, trucks and people on foot heading for Iligan City, some 30 kilometers away.

"At night we can hear the gunfire. We hid inside, we were too frightened to go out", Noraisa Duca, a Muslim resident of Marawi, told AFP at the checkpoint.

"We had been pummelling them in the mountains, but were caught unaware when they entered Marawi", Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana conceded in a briefing to reporters on Wednesday.

Security analysts say Hapilon has been trying to unite Filipino militant groups behind IS.

After receiving intelligence that he had come to Marawi for medical treatment and was hiding in a house, a small group of security forces conducted what two military spokespeople described as a "surgical operation" to get him.

Muslim rebels have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in Mindanao, with the conflict claiming more than 130,000 lives. Hapilon has been working to unite disparate militant factions that have pledged loyalty to ISIS, including the Maute group formed in 2013 from members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

  • Leroy Wright