COTABATO CITY – The Philippine military claimed Friday to have nearly three dozen militants, including foreign fighters, in continuing offensives against the jihadist Maute group affiliated with the Islamic State. But 6 army soldiers were also killed with 7 more wounded in fierce clashes.
“As of this report, 31 terrorist were already neutralized and 6 high-powered firearms were recovered by the troops. Our troops are doing deliberate operations in areas we believe are still occupied or infested with the terrorist’s presence. I specifically ordered our soldiers to locate and destroy these terrorists as soon as possible,” said Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, commander of military forces fighting the Maute group.
But it was unclear whether the casualties were based on intelligence reports since not a single body of militants had been recovered by troops, except for one fighter who died while being operated at a hospital early on the siege.
However, Malaysian media – quoting unnamed intelligence sources – reported 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.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command said the fighting entered its 4th day and troops were trying desperately to drive out the militants out in the open as security forces cordoned off Marawi to prevent the jihadists from escaping. 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.
Six army soldiers were confirmed killed with 7 more wounded in the fighting and bring the total number of casualties to over three dozen since the violence 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 in Marawi. Other photos showed the militants manning roadblocks in the city.
The militants, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, vowed to put up a caliphate in the restive region and forged an alliance with various jihadist groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the notorious Abu Sayyaf group.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, appealed to citizens to help them fight terrorism by providing intelligence on the militants. Galvez earlier vowed to crush the Maute group in two days.
“We once more call on the people in the community to join us fight terrorism. Provide your security forces with information that will contribute to the neutralization of these agents of deaths and destruction. We will exhaust all efforts to crush the remaining Maute members so that the people of Marawi City can go back to their homes the soonest,” he said.
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. (Mindanao Examiner. With a report from Rhoderick Beñez)
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