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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Marawi will be a fight to the death, say commanders

KOTA KINABAL - It appears that the battle between militants and Philippine security forces in Marawi will be a fight to the death, according to several military commanders in that country.

The soldiers have encircled the city where Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad has dug in with at least 90 militants.

With the fighting taking place in a 4km area of the city, Philippine troops are constrained by some 100 civilians there who are reluctant to be evacuated.

The people fear that their homes and business premises will be looted or damaged in the fighting.

According to the military, the militants were constantly moving from building to building to elude aerial bombardments and ground attacks.

Western Mindanao Command head Lt-Gen Carlito Galvez said it was obvious that the militants – comprising Islamic State (IS) and Maute terrorist groups – were trying to bog down its troops.

“They are trying to delay and impede our soldiers from restoring peace and order to the city.

“These actions prevent their fellow Muslims from peacefully and solemnly observing Ramadan,” he said in a press statement yesterday.

Lt-Gen Galvez said the soldiers were trying to secure areas surrounding mosques so that the Muslim population could go there to pray safely.

He said security forces have been calling down airstrikes on specific targets – buildings occupied by the militants.

It was hoped that surgical strikes could end the battle, he added.

Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen Eduardo Ano said they were certain Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who was declared Emir of IS forces in the Philippines last November, was still in the city.

“We will make it his cemetery,” he said, adding that the military expected to finish off the militants in about a week.

Like the Maute, the Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to IS.

Dr Mahmud has been identified as the next man tasked to create an IS bastion in South-East Asia now under the command of Isnilon.

It was reported that Isnilon was badly injured in an aerial attack on Basilan island about two months ago and was brought to Marawi to be cared for by a relative.

A security forces team tried to nab him but was attacked by Maute militants, sparking off the siege in the city, with more than 40 people killed so far in the fighting.

The soldiers are also on the lookout for foreign militants, especially from Malaysia and Indonesia, trying to slip into Marawi. They have received alerts that veteran militants could be headed their way.

As many as 1,000 foreign militants could be coming to shore up those in Marawi, according to the military.

These fighters were reportedly returning to their home countries from places such as Yemen and Syria, and would then head to southern Philippines to help set up an IS caliphate in South-East Asia.

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