Filipino rebels beheaded civilians, says army
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.
Evacuated residents rest at a refugee centre in Iligan, while government forces fight insurgents in Marawi, Philippines, yesterday.