Priest and churchgoers kidnapped by IS militants in Philippines

Bruno Cirelli
Mag 31, 2017

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.

About 30 civilian workers asked for an immediate rescue as they were surrounded Saturday by the Islamic State-inspired Maute militants in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

Militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers, according to the city's bishop Edwin de la Pena. Their condition is unknown.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to reassure soldiers who might be accused of committing abuses under martial law, and jokingly said that if any of them were to rape three women, he would personally claim responsibility for it.

"I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly", Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed from a distant commercial area that was hit.

His comments sparked condemnation from the Philippine Women's Party, who issued a statement saying, "Rape is not a joke". "They're getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon".

"The main goal of the offensive is to suppress the lawlessness and to maintain normalcy in Marawi so that our people here, our countrymen, can return, especially by Ramadan", he said, adding that he hopes the city would be cleared within three days.

On Saturday afternoon however, government negotiators said they would no longer join the fifth round of peace talks with the communists, which were set to begin later this week, because of the CPP's order (see story on A1).

He recently warned that Islamic State was determined to establish a presence in the southern Philippines and the country was at risk of "contamination".

Padilla says 61 militants have been killed together with 11 soldiers and four police since Tuesday, when a failed raid to capture one of Asia's top militants triggered an attack on the city.

Placing Mindanao under martial law empowers the Philippine military to supersede civilian authorities in enforcing the law.

The violence has forced thousands to flee and raised fears of growing extremism in the country.

Singaporeans are among the foreign nationals fighting alongside the Islamic State-linked Maute group in Marawi City, a Philippines armed forces spokesperson said on Friday (May 26).

Convoys of vehicles packed with evacuees and protected by heavily armed soldiers streamed into nearby Iligan City. Maute now controls most of Marawi, with government troops setting up a perimeter outside the city.

"During martial law, your commanders, you, you can arrest any person, search any house".

Mr Duterte, who uses profanities regularly, also attracted controversy past year when, during an election campaign speech, he joked that he had wanted to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who had been murdered in a Philippine prison riot.

"The arms we ordered from America [was] cancelled", Mr Duterte said.

In what was intended as a joke, Duterte said the victim was attractive and as mayor of Davao city where the riot took place, he should have been first in line.

"They have been sending us text messages, calling our hotline, requesting us to send rescue teams but we can not simply go to areas which are inaccessible to us", Adiong told AFP. The military said he is still wounded from a January air strike and being protected by his fighters.

"They are texting us and calling us for help", he said. "We have to finish this". "It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign fighters", Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government's chief lawyer, told reporters in the southern city of Davao.

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