An ISIS insurrection threatened to take over Marawi City in the Philippines and succeeded in hoisting the Islamic State flag over a city hospital. At least 21 people were killed, officials said, since violence erupted on Tuesday as jihadis carrying the black banner of ISIS rampaged through the city, burning buildings as they went.
All routes to and from Marawi have been secured by the army. Many residents fled.
The ISIS-operated Amaq Agency boasted “fighters of the Islamic State launch a wide-scale offensive on positions of Philippine troops in the city of Marawi” in a statement.
Jihadis beheaded a police chief after stopping him at a makeshift checkpoint they set up. They also took a Roman Catholic priest, Rev Chito Suganob, and over a dozen members of his congregation hostage, The Independent reported.
According to local clergy they threatened to kill the hostages “if government forces unleashed against them are not recalled.”
The violence began after a botched army operation on Tuesday to arrest jihadi kingpin Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, who was tracked to an apartment in the area. Both Maute and Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and have an alliance.
However, the operation met stiff resistance and failed to capture or kill Hapilon.
An estimated 100 jihadi militiamen reportedly arrived in Marawi, a city of 200,000, as reinforcements, beginning a fierce gun battle for control of the area, according to Associated Press.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao, where Marawi City is located.
“Martial law is martial law,” Duterte was quoted by media as saying on May 24. “It will not be any different from what Marcos did. I’d be harsh.”
Ferdinand Marcos was president of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986 and ruled under martial law from 1972 until 1981. Human Rights Watch said his reign was characterized by “massive arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, and countless extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances for which very few were ever punished.”
“If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people,” said the president, at a news conference in Manila. He cut short a trip to Russia to deal with the emergency.
“I had to declare martial law in the Mindanao group of islands,” said Duterte. “It is our constitutional duty to enforce the law and provide security.”
In the past he promised a tough hand against terrorism, which has long plagued the southern Philippines. “I will not just simply allow my people to be slaughtered for the sake of human rights, that’s bullshit,” Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said about a possible ISIS threat in late 2016.
His current rhetoric matches his earlier promises.
“If I think that you should die, you will die,” he said. “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.”
Three “very deliberate, very precise” airstrikes were launched by the government on Thursday to flush out the 30-40 Maute fighters believed to still be in the city.
Philippines army spokesperson Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay with West Mindanao command said the Maute militants were now isolated in pockets and the government has retaken most of the areas initially seized by the militants.
She also said the jihadis were able to greatly exaggerate the extent of their gains through exploiting social media.