May 26, 2017 – Foreign fighters are among the militants linked to the Islamic State group who are battling government troops in the southern Philippines, an official said today.
“What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens,” Calida told reporters. “It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of ISIS.”
Philippine troops backed by armored vehicles and rocket-firing helicopters are fighting to re-take control of Marawi, which has been under siege by gunmen linked to the IS group since a raid earlier this week failed to capture one of Asia’s most-wanted militants.
Rebels have torn through the streets of Marawi since Tuesday night, torching buildings, taking a priest and his worshippers hostage and sealing off much of the city. The violence forced thousands to flee and raised fears of growing extremism in the country.
At least 44 people have died in the fighting, including 31 militants and 11 soldiers, officials said Thursday. It was not immediately clear whether civilians were among the dead.
In a sign of the confusion over events inside the city, a local police chief told The Associated Press on Friday that he was alive and well — two days after President Rodrigo Duterte told the media he had been beheaded by militants.
Police Chief Romeo Enriquez said there may have been confusion because his predecessor in Malabang, a town near Marawi, was killed in the fighting on Tuesday, although he was not beheaded.
As authorities worked to clear the city, residents spoke of their terror.
“At night we can hear the gunfire,” said Mohammad Usman, who watched from his home just outside Marawi as thousands of residents streamed out of the city Thursday. “I’m just praying that the bullets will not find their way to my house and hit us. I hope that the bombs will not land nearby and harm us.”
Duterte imposed 60 days of martial law Tuesday on the island of Mindanao, a traditional homeland of minority Muslims that encompasses the southern third of the nation and is home to 22 million people. Marawi has a population of around 200,000.