Members of a militant group with ties to the Islamic State (ISIS) raided a prison in the southern Philippines, freeing more than 100 inmates.
Around 50 armed gunmen with the ISIS-linked Maute Group stormed the Marawi City Jail, bound the guards, freed the prisoners, and torched the prison. Carrying the black standard of ISIS, the Maute militants also set fire to schools and government buildings in the city of Marawi, where security forces have clashed with Muslim fighters since Tuesday afternoon.
— God Protect Us (@konkonmgt) May 24, 2017
Maute militants have raided prisons in the past, typically to liberate their own fighters.
The battle for Marawi began Tuesday as security forces moved in to bring down a “high-value target,” specifically Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who 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.
“We launched a surgical operation to neutralize the group who is planning terrorism in Marawi,” explained Col. Jo-ar Herrera, a regional military spokesman. “Our troops were met by bullets from the Maute group, triggering a fierce firefight.”
Hapilon’s forces called for reinforcements from Maute units in the area.
Around 50 radical gunmen engaged government security forces, and the gun battles quickly evolved into a siege. Maute troops moved into government buildings, raising the black flag of ISIS. The fight continued well into the night.
“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 are not okay here,” a Marawi 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.”
While the fighting has abated, the militants still control the city. They have also reportedly taken Christian hostages and, in certain cases, slaughtered civilians, who are now fleeing the city by the thousands.
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) May 24, 2017
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern Philippines, vowing to take a harsh stance to stop ISIS from securing a foothold in his country.
“If I think you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there’s an open defiance, you will die. If it means many people dying, so be it. That’s how it is,” Duterte said Wednesday.
Filipino troops have surrounded the city of Marawi, setting up security checkpoints, but the Islamic militants are reportedly threatening to kill hostages if Filipino security forces are not withdrawn.
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