Gunfire continues to ring out in the southern Philippines as security forces clash with militants with ties to the Islamic State.
“We are not okay here,” a Marawi City resident posted on Facebook late Tuesday night, according to the Inquirer. “There are buildings on fire in the town and we are not hearing any fire truck sirens or what. And now lights are out and we are hearing gunshots again.”
Many believe that sympathizers are to blame for setting three huge fires at Marawi City Jail, Dansalan College, and Saint Mary’s Church, reports Rappler, a local outlet.
— Haron Ar Rashid Dima (@RickoDima) May 23, 2017
The firefight began around 2 p.m. Tuesday as Filipino security forces stormed an apartment complex in Barangay Basak Malutlut in pursuit of “high-value targets,” specifically Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. “We launched a surgical operation to neutralize the group who is planning terrorism in Marawi,” explained Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division. “Our troops were met by bullets from the Maute group, triggering a fierce firefight.”
Abu Sayaff and Maute both have ties to ISIS, and they subscribe to similar standards. Hapilon has reportedly been chosen to lead an ISIS division in Southeast Asia and is on the Department of Justice’s most-wanted list for terrorists.
When security forces moved in on Hapilon, his forces opened fire, while Maute reinforcements were called in to provide additional combat support.
Around 3:30 p.m., Filipino bombers dropped ordnance on militant positions. Around 50 gunmen engaged government security forces, but the gun battles quickly evolved into a siege. Maute troops moved into a government hospital, city hall, the city jail, and parts of the Mindanao State University campus.
One police officer and two soldiers, according to the most recent reports, were killed in the shootout. Around a dozen others were injured in the fight. Many of the militants were also killed in the conflict.
In response to the crisis in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte cut his trip to Russia short and declared martial law for all of Mindanao, a largely Muslim area in the southern Philippines, for a period of 60 days.
“The whole of Marawi city is blacked out, there is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a live broadcast. “We will conduct house-to-house clearing and do everything to remove the threat there,” military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano told reporters, noting that there are concerns about civilian casualties.
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