Philippines Forces Hit IS-Linked Militants as Civilians Flee, Wave Flags

A government soldier in an armoured personnel carrier stands on guard at a checkpoint along a main highway in Pantar town, Lanao del Norte, after residents started to evacuate their hometown of Marawi city, southern Philippines May 24, 2017. Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into the southern Philippine.

President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to impose martial law over Mindanao in the southern Philippines is justified due to a "clear and present danger" the Islamic militants are posing in that region, the government's solicitor general said on Friday.

The raid went wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel security forces, then tore across the city flying black IS flags.

It only permits military courts to try civilians when civil courts are unable to function.

The black flags of the Islamic State group were planted atop buildings and flown from commandeered vehicles, including a government ambulance and an armoured auto, said Mr Mamintal Alonto Adiong Jr, vice governor of Lanao del Sur province, of which Marawi is the capital.

They said six soldiers died in Thursday's fighting.

He gave his troops a free hand to wrest control of Marawi.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla says the dead include a group of four men, three women and a child who were found near a road close to the Mindanao State University in Marawi. He also suggested he may expand it nationwide, saying "it would not be any different from what President Marcos did", referring to the country's longtime dictator, who declared martial law in 1972.

"We aroused, organized, and mobilized - that was how we fought the Marcos dictatorship, and that is how we will fight Duterte's martial law declaration in Mindanao", said Danny dela Fuente, spokesperson of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees laban sa Aresto at Detensyon (Selda) and a martial law survivor. "I'm just praying that the bullets will not find their way to my house and hit us". The military says he is still wounded from a January air strike and the fierce Maute resistance is aimed at protecting him.

The authorities said they believe the group - which is holding high ground while the military is slowed down on lower grounds - are seeking to turn the island of Mindanao into a caliphate.

"We take a serious view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence regardless of where the violence takes place". "We have to finish this".

Ano said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious.

He said to the troops: "We will win, right?"

Army officials said 13 fighters were killed on Thursday by troops backed by rocket-firing helicopters in Marawi city, an important hub for the Islamic faith that now resembles a war zone. One local police chief has told reporters that he is fine - two days after Mr Duterte announced he had been beheaded by militants.

A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which has a presence in Marawi and was instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week's battles.

The Philippine Abu Sayyaf militants are said to have links with Syria-based global terror network Islamic State.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon's capture, but he has proved elusive.

The problem of militancy in the south, the scene of decades-long Muslim separatist uprisings in the predominantly Catholic nation, is not new.

Far from signifying strength, Duterte's threat reflects the inability of the government to pre-empt and effectively address the conflict in Mindanao, which has provided a hospitable environment for extremist ideology and mobilisation.

  • Leroy Wright