An explosion is seen after a Philippines army aircraft released a bomb during an airstrike. (Reuters: Jorge Silva)
Civilians held hostage by Islamist militants occupying a southern Philippine city have been forced to loot homes, take up arms against Government troops, and serve as sex slaves for rebel fighters, the army says.
- The accounts are the latest harrowing tales to comes out of the Marawi conflict
- President Duterte is struggling to contain the violence which is now in its sixth week
- The extent of the insurgency has stirred fears that IS may setup up a regional base
Citing accounts of seven residents of Marawi City who either escaped or were rescued, the military said some hostages were forced to convert to Islam, carry wounded fighters to mosques, and marry militants of the Maute group loyal to Islamic State.
“This is what is happening inside, this is very evident,” military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera told a news conference.
“These are evil personalities.”
Their accounts, which could not be immediately verified, are the latest harrowing tales to come out of a conflict zone that the military has been unable to clear for five weeks, as well-armed and organised rebels fight off soldiers with sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Some escapees say bodies of residents have been left in the streets, some for weeks, and civilians are distressed by Government air strikes and artillery bombardments that have reduced parts of Marawi to rubble.
‘All they want is to kill and destroy’: Duterte
The protracted seizure has worried the region about the extent the Islamic State’s agenda may have gained traction in the southern Philippines, which is more used to banditry, piracy and separatism, rather than radical Islam.
The rebels’ combat capability, access to heavy weapons, and use of foreign fighters have raised fears in the mainly Catholic country that the Marawi battle could just be the start of a wider campaign, and it could be presented by Maute as a triumph to aid their recruitment.
- The Maute are an armed Muslim group that’s pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group
- Hapilon was reportedly designated the leader of the alliance
- The Maute has been blamed for a bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, Duterte’s hometown, last September
- Last month, troops killed dozens of Maute militants and captured their jungle camp near Lanao del Sur’s Piagapo town
- Troops found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms and passports of suspected Indonesian militants in the camp, the military said
President Rodrigo Duterte, reappearing in public after a week-long absence, said he was deeply saddened by the crisis and promised Marawi would be rebuilt.
He said he had cousins who were members of the Maute group, one of which had been killed, and his decision to declare martial law on Mindanao was justified, because he was aware of exactly what the extremists would do.
“I know the deployment of snipers and where they hid their firearms,” he said in a speech.
I already had the complete picture and I knew that would be a long fight.”
Mr Duterte said he understood why Muslim separatists had fought the Government, but could not comprehend Islamic State’s radical doctrine.
“What’s painful for me, a fractured ideology entered. All that they want is to kill and destroy, how can we live with that?” he said.
Heavy clashes broke out again on Tuesday as the battle entered its sixth week, with intense bombings by planes on a shrinking rebel zone.