Filipino rebels be­headed civil­ians, says army

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

MARAWI CITY: The de­cap­i­tated bod­ies of five civil­ians have been found in a Philip­pine city oc­cu­pied by Is­lamist rebels, the mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day, warn­ing the num­ber of res­i­dents killed by rebel “atroc­i­ties” could rise sharply as troops re­take more ground.

The dis­cov­ery of the five vic­tims among 17 other bod­ies re­trieved would be the first ev­i­dence that civil­ians trapped in be­sieged Marawi City have been de­cap­i­tated dur­ing the five-week stand by mil­i­tants loyal to the Is­lamic State group, as some who es­caped the city had re­ported.

Lieu­tenant-Colonel Em­manuel Gar­cia of the West­ern Min­danao Com­mand said the five de­cap­i­tated bod­ies had been found with the other 17 civil­ians killed by mil­i­tants.

Gar­cia did not re­spond im­me­di­ately to re­peated re­quests for more de­tails.

It was not clear when the bod­ies were found. A civil­ian res­cue worker, Ab­dul Azis Lomon­dot, said ear­lier that body parts had been found on Wed­nes­day, but there was “no proof of be­head­ing”.

The bat­tle for Marawi en­tered its 36th day yes­ter­day, with in­tense gun­fights and bomb­ing in the heart of the town and black-clad fight­ers seen from afar run­ning be­tween build­ings as ex­plo­sions rang out. Marawi is on south­ern Min­danao is­land.

The rebels’ hold on Marawi, while in­cur­ring the full force of a mil­i­tary for years trained by its US coun­ter­parts, has much of the re­gion on edge, con­cerned that Is­lamic State’s in­flu­ence may run deeper than pre­vi­ously thought.

Those fears are also be­ing felt in Malaysia and In­done­sia, whose na­tion­als are among the Maute group of rebels fight­ing in Marawi, sug­gest­ing the group may have built a cross-bor­der net­work that has gone largely un­de­tected.

Mil­i­tary spokesman Resti­tuto Padilla said it was likely that many civil­ians had been killed, and the death toll – al­ready at 27 be­fore the lat­est 17 were an­nounced – was only what the au­thor­i­ties could con­firm in­de­pen­dently. He said a “sig­nif­i­cant num­ber” of dead had been seen by those who had es­caped the fight­ing.

“It may in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly once we are able to val­i­date all this in­for­ma­tion,” Padilla said.

“A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber were seen, but again, we can­not in­clude many of these,” he said.

Padilla said the cause of those deaths would be “atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the ter­ror­ists”.

Among those atroc­i­ties, the army says, have been res­i­dents be­ing forced to loot homes, take up arms, or be­come sex slaves.

Videos have ap­peared this month on the web­site of Is­lamic State’s Amaq news agency and its so­cial me­dia chan­nels of hostages in Marawi plead­ing for their lives, say­ing they would be be­headed if air strikes were not stopped.

Clips have also ap­peared of peo­ple on their knees, shot in the head from be­hind.

Reuters was un­able to con­firm the au­then­tic­ity of the re­ports.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Evac­u­ated res­i­dents rest at a refugee cen­tre in Ili­gan, while govern­ment forces fight in­sur­gents in Marawi, Philip­pines, yes­ter­day.

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