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Monday, May 29, 2017

Fighting exacts heavy toll on Marawi civilians

MARAWI CITY -The military launched fresh airstrikes on Sunday to drive out terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group after days of fighting left at least 19 corpses in the streets and hundreds of civilians begging for rescue from this besieged city in Lanao del Sur province.

The crisis inside Marawi City, home to some 200,000 people, has grown increasingly dire as the Maute group terrorists showed unexpected strength, fending off the Army and soldiers who went house-to-house in search of gunmen.

The violence, which began on Tuesday, prompted President Duterte to declare 60 days of martial law on all of Mindanao, where a Moro separatist rebellion has raged for decades.

But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism is growing as smaller bandit groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group unify and align themselves with IS.

More than 2,000 trapped

Thousands of civilians have streamed out of Marawi and more than 2,000 remain trapped inside the city.

Many sent desperate text messages begging to be rescued and reporting that their homes had been destroyed, Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the provincial government, said on Sunday.

Adiong said the trapped civilians were in the battle zones.

“[We told them to] just go to the safest area and wait, wait and wait. Maybe in their house. Lock their doors. Do not let anyone enter your house and wait for us and we will come to you,” he said.

Adiong said local authorities were trying to get clearance from the military to go to the aid of the civilians.

He said there were reports that seven civilians were hit by shrapnel from a 105-mm howitzer round fired by the military on Friday.

Agakhan Sharief, known in the province as Bin Laden because of his resemblance to the late al-Qaida leader, told the Inquirer on Sunday that he had spoken to the Maute gunmen and was told that local officials could get the trapped civilians out provided they would not bring soldiers.

“[T]hey said you’re all welcome provided no intelligence and Christians,” said Sharief, who is helping the rescue efforts.

Failed operation

The violence erupted on Tuesday when the government launched a raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who has a $5-million prize on his head offered by the US government.

But the operation went awry and the terrorists rampaged through the city, torching buildings, planting IS flags and battling government forces in the streets.

A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage. There was no word about their condition on Sunday.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said combat operations were still going on but the terrorists were weakening.

“We believe they’re now low on ammunition and food. Compared to the initial days, there has been increasingly less resistance from the militants within Marawi,” Padilla said on Sunday, speaking to reporters in the military headquarters in Manila.

As the government retakes much of the city, the scope of the battle is becoming clearer.

Padilla said the bodies of four men, three women and a child were found near a road close to the Mindanao State University (MSU) campus in Marawi.

Eight other men were found gunned down and thrown in a shallow ravine early on Sunday in Marawi’s Emi village, police said.

The eight men, most of them shot in the head and some with hands tied behind their backs, were laborers who were stopped by the terrorists on the outskirts of the city while trying to flee clashes.
Nine spent bullet casings were found on a blood-stained patch of road at the top the ravine.

Maute message

A paper sign attached to one of the men indicated the victims “betrayed their faith,” said PO3 Jamael Mangadang.

Marawi is a Muslim-majority city.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team reported that 42,142 people have been evacuated as of 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Some 30,600 people are staying in different evacuation centers, while 11,500 others are staying with relatives outside Marawi City, the team reported on Sunday.

Most of the city’s residents have fled because of the fighting, which has seen the military heavily bomb residential areas where the terrorists were believed to be hiding.

The military announced on Saturday, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that it would intensify the bombing campaign.

At least 97 people have died in the fighting, according to Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for the 103rd Infantry Brigade (IB).

The dead included 19 civilians, 61 terrorists from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, 13 soldiers and four policemen, he said.

Padilla said on Sunday that the military was trying to ascertain the identities of the eight civilians found near the MSU campus.

“This senseless killing is alarming because these are civilians—women and children—who were unarmed. Why did they have to be killed?” Padilla said.

“This development validates a series of reports of atrocities committed by the militants earlier,” he added.

Rescued civilians

Padilla announced the rescue of more than 100 civilians.

“[W]e helped get out more than 100 [civilians] who were trapped in their houses while we were conducting clearing operations as the fighting continued,” he said.

“According to them, there are still many trapped in their homes and so we will try to help them,” he said.

He added that the military had rescued 124 civilians since the start of the operations against the terrorists.

He said the military’s priority was to clear Marawi of terrorists so that life in the city could return to normal.

“Precision airstrikes and artillery fire will likewise continue at specific targets to hasten the clearing [operations],” he said.

The 103rd IB’s Herrera said the terrorists were being hit with surgical airstrikes.

“They occupied buildings. They have snipers to inflict casualties. We will push them out of the city,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM THE WIRES

Inquirer calls for support for the victims in Marawi City

Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the attacks in Marawi City

Cash donations may be deposited in the Inquirer Foundation Corp. Banco De Oro (BDO) Current Account No: 007960018860.

Inquiries may be addressed to Inquirer’s Corporate Affairs office through Connie Kalagayan at 897-4426, and Bianca Kasilag-Macahilig at 897-8808 local 352,

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