Nine Christians Tied Up And Shot By Islamists

From Daily-Mail:
ISIS-linked militants reportedly captured nine Christians, tied their hands together and shot them dead in a city in the Philippines.

The Maute group forced the civilians off their truck at a roadside checkpoint in Marawi City on Wednesday and murdered them after they were identified as Christian, local media reported.

Harrowing images show the group lying dead face-down in the grass, amid reports that villagers are afraid to move the bodies because terrorists are still in the area.

One policeman was similarly caught at a checkpoint set up by the militants and beheaded on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

It comes as 100 US-trained special forces aboard helicopters and armoured tanks battled to retake the besieged southern city from rampaging jihadis.

Soldiers were seen crouched behind armoured vehicles and walls around lunchtime on Thursday, firing volleys of gunshots towards elevated positions occupied by Maute rebels. Smoke could also be seen on the horizon.

Five soldiers and one policemen died in the clashes, while 13 gunmen were killed, according to the military.

'We're confronting maybe 30 to 40 remaining from the local terrorist group,' said Jo-Ar Herrera, a spokesman for the military's First Infantry Regiment.

'The military is conducting precise, surgical operations to flush them out ... The situation is very fluid and movements are dynamic because we wanted to out-step and out-manoeuvre them,' he said.

An initial rampage by the gunmen, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, through the mainly Muslim city of Marawi on Tuesday prompted President Duterte to impose martial law across the southern third of the Philippines.

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because the militants were holed up in residential buildings, had planted improvised bombs in the streets and had taken Catholic hostages.

'People are afraid. They do not want to open establishments. Offices are closed. We do not want people to be used as human shields,' Marawi mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said.

Two military helicopters flew above Marawi and armoured tanks churned through its streets as automatic rifle firing could be heard on Thursday, according to an AFP photographer in the city.

Marawi has about 200,000 residents but many of them have fled because of the fighting.

It is located in Lanao del Sur province, a stronghold of the Maute, a fierce, but little-known group that has been a tricky opponent for the military.

There are only between 50 and 100 gunmen, according to various military officials.

The militants are also holding between 12 and 15 Catholic hostages abducted from a church, according to the local bishop, Edwin Dela Pena.

Its activities are a source of concern for Mindanao native Duterte, who is familiar with separatist unrest but alarmed by the prospect of Islamic State's radical ideology spreading in the Philippines.

Hundreds of civilians, including children, were sheltering in a military camp in Marawi City on Thursday.

The Maute had taken more than a dozen Christians hostage and set free 107 prisoners from two jails since Tuesday.

Bishops and cardinals had pleaded with the Maute rebels, who they said were using Christians and a priest as human shields. The status of the captives was unknown.

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.

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world's most dangerous terrorists, offering a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

However the raid went spectacularly wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, then went on a rampage across the city while flying black IS flags.

They also set fire to many buildings, including a church and a university.

A police chief has been beheaded and 21 people killed when more than 100 ISIS-linked militants stormed a city in the Philippines.

Members of the Maute Islamist group overran Marawi on Mindanao island leading to hours of pitched gun battles in the streets.

'The chief of police in Malabang on his way home, going back he was stopped by a checkpoint manned by terrorists and I think they decapitated them right then and there,'  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said.

Terrorists also attacked the Cathedral of Our Lady Help and abducted church staff including Father Chito Suganob and worshipers.

'They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled,' Filipino Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

National military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said 13 government soldiers were killed along with 13 militants.

President Duterte, who declared martial law in parts of Mindanao after militants clashed with soldiers in Marawi yesterday, said he may extend it to other parts of the country if extremists seek sanctuary elsewhere.

'We are in state of emergency,' he told reporters in Manila after a state visit to Moscow, adding he would deal with militants 'harshly'.

Chilling photos on social media purported to show Maute gunmen planting an ISIS-style black and white flag on top of a building in the middle of the city.

'At the time of his capture, Father Chito was in the performance of his ministry as a priest,' Archbishop Villegas said.

'He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict.'

But Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra has refused to confirm reports the terror group took hostages and insisted that the local government has the situation under control.

In a telephone interview with national broadcaster ANC, Gandamra said he was working with the military to bring peace and order to the city.

Police and military spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on Villegas's report of the hostage taking.

The fighting in Marawi erupted yesterday when security forces raided a house they believed Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap gang and Philippine head of ISIS, was hiding.

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world's most dangerous terrorists, offering a bounty of $6 million for his capture.

More than 100 gunmen responded to the raid by burning buildings and conducting other diversionary tactics, according to Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Security analysts say Hapilon has been trying to unite Filipino militant groups that have professed allegiance to IS.

These include the Maute group, named after two brothers who lead it and which is based near Marawi.

Duterte had repeatedly said the growing influence of Islamic State was one of the nation's top security concerns, and martial law was necessary to stop it.

However Islamist militancy is not new to the southern Philippines, where a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency claimed more than 120,000 lives.

Muslim rebels orchestrated a siege in the southern city of Zamboanga in 2013 that left more than 200 people dead.

But the government of then-president Benigno Aquino did not declare martial law.

Aquino also said he had considered imposing martial law just before standing down last year in Sulu, island strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf in the far south of Mindanao.

But Aquino said he decided against it partly because military rule could spark resentment among local people.

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