The Philippines is officially under “invasion” by terrorists, the government said Friday.
Three-fourths of Marawi City, a city of 200,000 on the southern island of Mindanao, has been overrun by the Islamic extremist Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf group, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a letter to the nation’s congress on Friday. Terrorists seized control of a municipal jail and unshackled its prisoners, razed a hospital and took possession of at least three bridges, according to the memo.
They are also suspected of having hunted down Christians in the Muslim-majority city to use as human shields, religious leaders told Reuters.
The current death toll has reached at least 42 people, the military said.
The Maute group has proven itself to be an effective combat gang able to withstand asymmetric use of force by government troops. Now Abu Sayyaf, known to be linked to Daesh, has joined forces with Maute in an attempt to occupy the Philippines, according to Philippine intelligence. The unified paramilitary group’s leader, Isnilon Hapilon, is a Daesh loyalist who was tapped by foreign terrorists to lead the raid on the Philippines, the Express reported. In 2005, the US Treasury Department seized Hapilon’s assets for suspected terrorist activities and association with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
On Tuesday, security personnel conducted a raid on Hapilon’s suspected hideout. The situation quickly backfired, however, and resulted in failure when more Daesh-linked militants were summoned as reinforcements. The same day, the pitch-black Daesh flag began waving over the city, Duetsche Welle reports.
"Before it was just a local terrorist group," Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters. But now, Malaysians and Indonesians who can’t get to the Middle East have entered the fray closer to home. The situation has evolved to the point where militants "want to make Mindanao part of the caliphate," Calida added, referring to Daeshe’s goal of establishing a caliphate in the Middle East. The official also expressed concern that the jihadist ideology is spreading among Filipino Muslim youth.
Manila has deployed Special Forces, armored vehicle battalions and attack choppers following Duterte’s declaration of martial law earlier in the week. "If there’s an open defiance, you will die," the brash president said, adding, "If it means many people dying, so be it."
Placing the entire island under martial law, which Duterte has suggested might be his next step, has drawn criticism. Duterte’s attempts to extend power are “alarming” and “grossly unnecessary,” activist Bernadette Ellorin told Loud & Clear on Radio Sputnik.