Fears grow of in­creas­ing Daesh foothold in south­ern Philip­pines

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - WORLD -

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.

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