Marawi war refugees, groups appeal to Duterte, military to halt aerial attacks

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page - (Moh Saaduddin and Rhoderick Beñez)

MARAWI CITY – Muslim war refugees have appealed anew to President Rodrigo Duterte and the military to stop bombing structures in the Marawi, saying, the government offensives against local ISIS virtually turned the besieged city into “Mosul,” a city in northern Iraq devastated by war.

“Nothing is left anymore in Marawi. Our city is destroyed by aerial bombings and artillery fire and we do not know how we can rebuild not only our homes, but our lives as well,” Nurhana said. Her family is just one of tens of thousands displaced by the fighting and is currently staying in one of government’s evacuation center near Marawi. She is only one of many villagers that fled the fierce fighting in Marawi.

Other Muslim groups, including religious leaders also appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to halt aerial bombings in the city. But security officials said the air strikes targeted ISIS fighters hiding out in different houses and buildings around Marawi. They said that nearly 400 militants and eight dozen soldiers and 39 civilians were killed since the battle began, but it was unclear how the military came up with the large number of enemy casualties without recovering bodies of slain militants.

Troops were trying desperately to drive the militants out in the open as security forces cordoned off Marawi to prevent the jihadists from escaping. But there were no signs the militants were backing down, although they earlier threatened to execute over a dozen civilian hostages, including a Catholic priest, should security forces continue with its assaults.

The fighting began on May 23 when militants occupied Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur in the Muslim autonomous region. Photos of militants also surfaced in social media with one picture showing 3 heavily-armed jihadists posing on top of a destroyed army tank. Other photos showed the militants manning roadblocks in the city and posing inside houses they have occupied, although there were reports that many of the militants managed to escape from the military strikes.

Military aircrafts continue to bomb enemy targets where jihadists were holed out as security forces battled ISIS militants and their armed supporters fighting for the establishment of a caliphate in the restive Muslim region of Mindanao.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, an army spokesman, said they were careful not to target buildings where jihadists are holding dozens of civilian hostages. “Their safety is our concern. We do not fire on buildings where hostages are being kept,” he said, adding, they have identified areas where ISIS is holding its captives.

Just last week, a military plane bombed a group of army soldiers and killing 2 and wounding at least 11 others during a raid that targeted local ISIS fighters. But the bomb missed its target by about 250 meters and hit buildings near where the soldiers were taking cover. The blast sent walls crushing down to the infantrymen. The others were hit by shrapnel from the bomb.

The military said it ordered an investigation into the incident to determine what went wrong. It was the second time that a military plane missed its target and hit ground troops. Eleven soldiers were killed and 7 others injured in May when an air force Marchetti S-211 jet also missed its target. Officials did not say what type of aircraft or the name of the pilot involved in the latest incident.

Duterte said Marawi City may be liberated soon, citing latest military progress reports on the government offensives against the extremist group. “This could be over in the next two weeks,” he said. Duterte said he is likely to extend the martial law upon the recommendation of the military and police unless Marawi is finally liberated and militants killed or captured

Malaysian media – quoting unnamed intelligence sources – reported recently that two Malaysians, Abdulrahman Asmawi from Kelantan and Kamsa Yahya from Kedah; and an Indonesian militant, Shei Ayman Marjuki, and an Arab sheik, Ahmad Balkafi – were among those killed in Marawi.

Malaysian newspaper The Star also reported that former Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, also known as Abu Handzalah, is also in Marawi and helping Abu Sayyaf chieftain and local ISIS leader Isnilon Hapilon in putting up a caliphate in the southern region. Mahmud was also reported killed by the local military, although it has not presented any proof of the killing of the elusive Malaysian militant.

The militants, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, forged an alliance with various jihadist groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the notorious Abu Sayyaf group and banded together to fight security forces.

The siege of Marawi by ISIS fighters has forced President Rodrigo Duterte to cut short his four-day visit to Russia and rushed back home to personally address the critical situation. Before heading back to the Philippines, Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in the whole of Southern Philippines in an effort to destroy the Maute group and end the violence in Marawi.

President Rodrigo Duterte, brandishing an automatic rifle, walks with military officials following a failed visit to the besieged city of Marawi. (Photo courtesy of Undersecretary Mocha Uson of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.)

President Rodrigo Duterte tinkers with his cell phone after a failed visit to the besieged city of Marawi. (Photo courtesy of Undersecretary Mocha Uson of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.)

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