Fears grow of increasing Daesh foothold in southern Philippines
Inside this lakeside city dotted with hundreds of mosques, a powerful militant designated by Daesh as its leader in the Philippines has managed to unify a disparate group of gunmen under a single command.
Over the past week, his fighters have shown their muscle, withstanding a sustained assault by the Philippine military and increasing fears that Daesh’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in this country’s restive southern islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.
The army insists the drawnout fight is not a true sign of the militants’ strength, and that the military has held back to spare civilians’ lives.
“They are weak,” Gen. Eduardo Ano, the military chief of staff, said of the gunmen, speaking at a hospital where injured soldiers were being treated. “It’s just a matter of time for us to clear them from all their hiding places.”
Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient.
Attack helicopters were streaking low over Marawi on Monday, firing rockets at militant hideouts, as heavily armed soldiers went house to house in search of fighters.
For nearly a week, the militants have held the Philippine army at bay, burning buildings, taking at least a dozen hostages and sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing. Officials say the commander, Isnilon Hapilon, who is one of Washington’s mostwanted militants, is still hiding somewhere in the city.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law for 60 days in the south last week after the militants went on a deadly rampage in Marawi following a failed military raid to capture Hapilon.