Philip­pine army ‘close to retaking’ mil­i­tant­held city

The Witness - - NEWS -

MARAWI (Philip­pines) — The Philip­pine mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day it was close to retaking a south­ern city held for a sev­enth day by Is­lamist mil­i­tants, as he­li­copters un­leashed more rock­ets on po­si­tions held by the rebels aligned with Is­lamic State.

The oc­cu­pa­tion of Marawi city by the Maute, a group hardly heard of a year ago, has be­come the big­gest se­cu­rity chal­lenge of Ro­drigo Duterte’s 11­month pres­i­dency, with gun­men re­sist­ing air and ground as­saults and con­trol­ling cen­tral parts of a city of 200 000 peo­ple.

The mil­i­tary said the rebels may be get­ting help from “sym­pa­thetic el­e­ments” and fight­ers they had freed from jail dur­ing the ram­page that started last Tues­day and caught the mil­i­tary by sur­prise.

“Our ground com­man­ders have as­sured that the end is al­most there,” mil­i­tary spokesper­son Resti­tuto Padilla told re­porters. “We’re try­ing to iso­late all these pock­ets of re­sis­tance.”

More than 100 peo­ple have been killed, most of them mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary, and most of the city’s res­i­dents have fled.

The mil­i­tary said the Maute group was still present in nine of the city’s 96 barangays, or com­mu­ni­ties.

The Maute’s abil­ity to fight off the mil­i­tary for so long will add to fears that Is­lamic State’s rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy is spread­ing in the south­ern Philip­pines and it could be­come a haven for mili­ tants from South­east Asia and beyond. Malaysians and In­done­sians were among the rebels killed.

The gov­ern­ment be­lieves the Maute car­ried out their as­sault be­fore the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan to cap­ture the at­ten­tion of Is­lamic State and earn recog­ni­tion as a re­gional af­fil­i­ate.

Ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses, men with black head­bands typ­i­cal of Is­lamic State have been seen on city streets in re­cent days. A pho­to­graph taken by a res­i­dent shows 10 men car­ry­ing as­sault ri­fles and dressed en­tirely in black.

Some troops tried to elim­i­nate Maute snipers yes­ter­day as oth­ers guarded de­serted streets, taken back block by block.

He­li­copters cir­cled the lake­side city and smoke poured out of some build­ings. Ar­tillery ex­plo­sions echoed.

Sixty­one mil­i­tants, 20 mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces and 19 civil­ians have been killed since last Tues­day, when Maute rebels went on the ram­page af­ter a botched mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to ar­rest Is­nilon Hapi­lon, who the gov­ern­ment be­lieves is a point man for Is­lamic State in the Philip­pines. — Reuters.

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