Philippines: 'Foreigners' fighting with Isis-linked militants in Marawi

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) - Philippine forces launched fresh airstrikes Sunday to drive out militants linked to the Islamic State group after days of fighting left corpses in the streets and hundreds of civilians begging for rescue from a besieged southern city.

He defended his proclamation of martial law in Mindanao, saying it was necessary to root out the militants who attacked Marawi on Tuesday, burning buildings and taking some dozen hostages.

Padilla said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed killed in the fighting, which has involved the military bombing buildings where the militants have been hiding.

The Maute have emerged from the glut of bandit and separatist groups in the southern Philippines and are a tactically smart, social media savvy group eager to align with Islamic State militants.

The battle to clear the city of the gunmen was proving hard because they had scattered into small groups and were moving to different houses and setting up sniper positions, according to the military.

A government soldier guards residents fleeing the fighting in Marawi city in the southern Philippines, May 24, 2017. "We can not just pinpoint the particular spot". "I hope that the bombs will not land nearby and harm us". Marawi has a population of around 200,000.

The decision has spurred fears of a return to widespread human rights abuses as occurred under a decade of martial law imposed by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The fighting erupted after a raid on the alleged hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, a head of Abu Sayyaf, another rebel group on Mindanao. "Compared to the initial days, there has been increasingly less resistance from the militants within Marawi", he said, speaking by phone from the capital, Manila.

'It started flying the flag of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria in several areas, thereby openly attempting to remove from the allegiance to the Philippine government this part of Mindanao, ' Abella told reporters.

"We have not seen any concrete evidence of material support from IS", military spokesman Brig. But he added that the smaller groups "are working to really get that recognition and funds, of course".

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world's most unsafe terrorists and has offered a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

He said Hapilon suffered a stroke after a government airstrike wounded him in January. Another government official listed Singaporeans as also among the militants. Once again, Hapilon escaped. "In numerous instances where their camps have been overtaken by our troops, there is evidence of the presence of drug paraphernalia, particularly with this Maute Group, such that our soldiers have been reporting that they've been fighting suicidally, meaning, without any regard for their own safety and like zombies".

Much of Marawi was still a no-go zone Thursday. Air force helicopters swooped overhead. "These terrorists are anti-people", Herrera said. "We have to finish this".

A fresh round of firefights have prompted more residents to leave the city on Saturday, many fleeing to neighboring Iligan.

Militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers, according to the city's bishop, Edwin de la Pena.

Most of Marawi's 200,000 people have left, many pouring into Iligan, some 38 km (24 miles) away, where authorities said they were stretched to the limit and anxious that Maute fighters were blending in with the displaced and could launch attacks.

  • Leroy Wright