‘Let us fight’

Duterte warns of ‘con­tam­i­na­tion’ by Is­lamic State group

Cape Breton Post - - Religion/advice/games -

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte or­dered his troops to crush mil­i­tants who are fight­ing street bat­tles with gov­ern­ment forces in the south, warn­ing Fri­day that the coun­try is at a grave risk of “con­tam­i­na­tion” by the Is­lamic State group.

The city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 peo­ple, has been un­der siege by IS-linked mil­i­tants since a gov­ern­ment raid Tues­day night on a sus­pected hide­out of Is­nilon Hapi­lon, who is on Wash­ing­ton’s list of most­wanted ter­ror­ists.

The raid went awry and gun­men swept through the streets, fend­ing off gov­ern­ment forces and tak­ing over large parts of the city. Duterte im­posed mar­tial law on the south­ern third of the na­tion ear­lier this week as the bat­tles con­tin­ued.

At least 44 peo­ple have died in the fight­ing, in­clud­ing 31 mil­i­tants and 11 soldiers, of­fi­cials say. It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether civil­ians were among the dead. The vi­o­lence has forced thou­sands of peo­ple to flee and raised fears of grow­ing ex­trem­ism.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “con­tam­i­na­tion by ISIS” loomed in the coun­try’s fu­ture, us­ing the acro­nym for the Is­lamic State group. “You can say that ISIS is here al­ready,” he said.

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

“You can arrest any per­son, search any house with­out war­rant,” said Duterte, who has al­lowed ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings of thou­sands of peo­ple in his crack­down on il­le­gal drugs.

Still, he also of­fered dia­logue to mil­i­tants who are not on the streets fight­ing.

“We can still talk about it,” Duterte said. “But those who are out-and-out ter­ror­ists, and you can­not be con­vinced to stop fight­ing, so be it. Let us fight.”

Hapi­lon is still hid­ing out in the city un­der the pro­tec­tion of gun­men who are des­per­ately try­ing to find a way to “ex­tri­cate” him, the coun­try’s mil­i­tary chief said.

“Right now, he is still in­side (the city),” Gen. Ed­uardo Ano told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We can­not just pin­point the par­tic­u­lar spot.”

He said Hapi­lon suf­fered a stroke af­ter a gov­ern­ment airstrike wounded him in Jan­uary.

Ano pre­dicted that the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion will take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of mil­i­tants.

“We will make this their ceme­tery,” he said. “We have to fin­ish this.”

In a sign that the long-stand­ing prob­lem of mil­i­tancy in the south could be ex­pand­ing, So­lic­i­tor General Jose Cal­ida said for­eign­ers were fight­ing along­side the gun­men in Marawi, in­clud­ing In­done­sians and Malaysians.

Ano also said for­eign fight­ers were be­lieved to be in­side, but he was more cau­tious. “We sus­pect that but we’re still val­i­dat­ing,” he said.

With much of Marawi a no-go zone, con­fu­sion reigned. One lo­cal po­lice chief told the AP on Fri­day that he was fine — two days af­ter Duterte an­nounced 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. En­riquez has been in the job for about two months.

Wit­nesses say gun­men were fly­ing black flags of the Is­lamic State group. Au­thor­i­ties were work­ing to de­ter­mine the con­di­tion of a Catholic priest and wor­ship­pers who were taken hostage by gun­men ear­lier this week.

AP PHOTO

Filipino ac­tivist holds a slo­gans with a pic­ture of Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte as they op­pose his dec­la­ra­tion of mar­tial law dur­ing a rally in Manila, Philip­pines Fri­day.

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