TROOPS BOMB MILITANTS IN MARAWI
Heavy fighting leaves 11 civilians dead, 12 to 15 from church taken hostage
PHILIPPINE security forces bombed a southern city yesterday as they battled militants who were holding hostages and reported to have murdered at least 11 civilians.
An initial rampage by the gunmen, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, through the mainly Muslim city of Marawi on Tuesday prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to impose martial law across the southern third of the country.
Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because, although there were only 30 to 40 remaining gunmen, the militants were moving nimbly through homes, had planted bombs in the streets and were holding hostages.
Intense gunfighting could be heard constantly throughout the day, according to a reporter in the city, and the military said it had dropped bombs on residential neighbourhoods.
“We are using surgical airstrikes,” local military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said before big clouds of black smoke rose from a bombed area near the provincial government building.
Most of Marawi's 200,000 residents had fled the city, which is about 800km south of Manila, but Herrera said those who remained had been warned to get out of areas where there was bombing and fighting.
“We are requesting our people in Marawi to go to safe places... and to stay indoors,” he said.
Five soldiers, two policemen and 13 militants had died in the three days of fighting, according to authorities.
Herrera said two civilians had also been killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday, and the military was investigating reports that nine people had been murdered at a checkpoint the militants set up.
Local GMA television network showed images of nine bullet-riddled bodies lying in a field with their hands tied together.
Duterte said on Wednesday that one of the policemen killed was similarly caught at a checkpoint set up by the militants, who then beheaded him.
The militants are also holding between 12 and 15 Catholic hostages abducted from a church, according to the local bishop, Edwin Dela Pena.
An enraged Duterte, who was in Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, declared martial law shortly after the fighting erupted and cut short his trip to fly home and deal with the crisis.
“It is brutality, cruelty,” Duterte said on Wednesday after flying back to Manila.
Duterte said martial law was required throughout the southern region of Mindanao, home to 20 million people, to stop the rising threat of hardline militants aligned to IS.
Duterte said on Wednesday that he might impose martial law throughout the rest of the country if he believed the terrorism threat was spreading. The president, who had waged a controversial war on drugs that claimed thousands of lives, warned martial law would be “harsh” and similar to military rule imposed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos a generation ago. AFP
Page 1 pic: Philippine soldiers assaulting militants in Marawi City yesterday.
Smoke rising from a market in Marawi City in the Philippines after fighting between government troops and militants. (Right) A soldier taking a boy to safety .