Islamic Militants Lay Siege to Philippine City, Duterte Threatens Death In Return
MANILA, May 24 -- Islamic terror groups laid a destructive siege to Marawi City in the southern Philippines on Tuesday, battling soldiers out to arrest their leader.
The militants slaughtered civilians, detained and beheaded the chief of police, abducted 13 people - including a priest and church workers - and set fire to a Catholic church along with other structures.
The attack prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on the entire Mindanao region giving him broad latitude to act in defense of the republic.
Under the Philippine Constitution, the state of emergency will last for 60 days, but it can be extended.
Duterte has already come under withering international criticism for his heavy handed approach to drug trafficking in the country. Undeterred by his critics, the Philippine president promised an aggressive response to the insurgents.
“If I think that you should die, you will die,” USA Today quoted Duterte as saying in regard to the siege of Marawi City. “If you fight us, you will die. If there is open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it.”
Heavy fighting broke out between government troops and a joint Islamic terrorist group made up of the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf as government soldiers raided a terrorist hideout to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the commander of Abu Sayyaf. Hapilon is a high-priority fugitive with a US$5 million price on his head for his capture, dead or alive.
As of 5 pm Wednesday, Manila time, at least 13 Maute-Abu Sayyaf terrorists were killed during the fighting. Soldiers backed by tanks and armored carriers continued with mop-up operations against the terrorists.
Hapilon was wounded months ago during an air strike by Philippine Air Force (PAF) planes and helicopter gunships in Lanao del Sur in southern Philippines some months ago, but the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) returned yesterday to complete the task of his capture.
Reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP General Headquarters in Quezon City, Metro Manila, said fighting started at about 2pm Tuesday and raged through the following morning as some 100 terrorists reached their beleaguered comrades of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf group in Marawi City, which has a predominantly Muslim population of over 200,000.
Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who was in Moscow for an official visit when fighting broke out, had to cut short his visit and return to Manila.
But before flying back home, Duterte was able to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than an hour on Wednesday. Duterte arrived in Manila Wednesday afternoon.
During the Marawi City siege, the municipal police chief was stopped by the terrorists at a checkpoint they had established. They then beheaded him.
Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena reported the terrorists burned the St. Mary Cathedral, kidnapped Fr. Chito, ten worshippers and three church workers Wednesday.
The terrorists also burned several buildings, including the city jail.
Additional counter-insurgency government responses are expected in the coming days.
PHOTO shows soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines are shown during the fighting against Islamist terrorists in outskirt of Marawi City on Wednesday.