Philippine forces launch attacks against ISIS-linked militants in Marawi

A number of foreign militants have had a presence in the southern Philippines for decades, including some of Asia's most-wanted.

The turmoil was the final straw for President Rodrigo Duterte, who on Tuesday delivered on his longstanding threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country's second-largest island, to stop the spread of radical Islam.

Marawi - Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into a southern Philippine city on Thursday as gunfire and explosions rang out after militants linked to the ISIS group torched buildings, seized more than a dozen Catholic hostages and raised the black flag of ISIS.

In a sign of the confusion over events inside the city, a local police chief told the AP on Friday that he was fine - two days after Duterte told journalists the police chief had been beheaded by militants.

According to Mr Enriquez, the former chief was shot dead in a clash with the extremists on Tuesday outside a Marawi hospital. "Lawless armed groups have historically used provinces adjoining Marawi City as escape routes, supply lines, and backdoor passages", reads the report.

"If it was true that martial law in Mindanao is not directed against the NPA, then Bello must inform Lorenzana", the CPP said in a May 25 statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte had also declared martial law across the southern third of the country to quell the crisis, while numerous 200,000 residents had fled and security forces had lost their target: Isnilon Hapilon. But soldiers have been going house-to-house to clear the city of militants.

"Attack helicopters fired rockets in a precision attack", Herrera said.

As authorities try to gain more control over the city, disturbing details have emerged. Hapilon's whereabouts were not clear, but there was no indication he was captured in the raid. The measures under martial law will apply the entire island, affecting almost 21 million people, and will include curfews, the establishment of checkpoints and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Thousands of people were fleeing the city Thursday, jamming their belongings into cars.

An estimated 86 percent of the Philippines is Roman Catholic, while another six percent identify as Christians of another denomination. "Otherwise, they will kill the hostages", Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi told CBCP News, noting his secretary was among the taken, and he was allowed to speak with Fr. Chito Suganob.

People were also protesting out of concern the martial law was too broadly applied.

It added that the imposition of martial law and the worsening human rights abuses that will arise from the declaration "will surely be brought forward in peace negotiations" as a form of violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. Under Marcos's declaration, all powers were transferred to the president, the military was authorized to arrest individuals who were allegedly conspiring to take over the government, a curfew was enforced, and group assemblies were banned. The Islamic State-aligned group continues to hold civilian hostages after reportedly murdering at least 11 people, according to reports.

It was blamed for a bombing in Duterte's home city of Davao in September a year ago, which killed 14 people and wounded dozens.

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

The army raided what it believed to be his hideout on Tuesday night in Marawi, but the militants called in reinforcements and were able to overpower government forces.

Much of Marawi was still a no-go zone Thursday.

  • Leroy Wright