Militants with ties to the Islamic State (ISIS) have held out against Filipino forces with the help of freed prisoners and looted arms and ammunition.
The armed forces of the Philippines have been fighting for over a week to liberate Marawi, a town in the southern Philippines that has been overrun by members of the Maute Group, ISIS-linked militants. Around 100 fighters have been killed, yet the Islamic rebels continue to fight, aided by stolen weapons and ammunition, as well as inmates freed from local prisons, Reuters reports.
Despite continuous air strikes and raids by ground forces, the militants hold a tenth of the city.
The Maute fighters released inmates from two local prisons, boosting their numbers, and raided police stations for firearms and ammunition, according to military spokesman Restituto Padilla. The militants chose an urban combat setting because of the availability of food and other supplies.
The military claims that the fight was planned in advance as a way for the Islamic insurgencies in the southern Philippines to prove themselves to ISIS. The Maute Group has risen out of relative obscurity in recent years as it adds to its ranks and secures new sources of funding.
The fighting began last Tuesday after a botched raid to bring down Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, a high-profile terrorist target believed to have been tasked with carrying out ISIS activities in Southeast Asia. Hapilon’s forces engaged government security forces, calling in reinforcements from the Maute Group.
The rebels quickly seized control of government facilities, raising the black ISIS flag above them. The militants torched schools and churches, took Christian hostages, beheaded the police chief and reportedly slaughtered civilians who failed to quote scripture from the Quran, the Islamic holy text.
The military reports that 89 militants, 21 Filipino soldiers, and 19 civilians have been killed in the fight, and over 100,000 civilians have reportedly fled the city. President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the embattled southern Philippines, and additional troops have been dispatched to the region.
Duterte has even called on other rebel and separatist groups, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, to join the fight against ISIS in the southern Philippines.
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