21 killed as terrorists rampage through Philippines city

At least 21 people were feared killed, as Isis-linked terrorists rampaged through a southern Philippine city, beheading a police chief, burning buildings, seizing a Roman Catholic priest and his worshipers and raising the black flag of Isis, regional authorities have said. As details of the attack in Marawi emerged, fears mounted that the largest Roman Catholic state in Asia could join a growing list of countries grappling with the spread of influence from Isis in Syria and Iraq.
The violence erupted on Tuesday after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group that has pledged allegiance to Isis. He is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5m (£3.9m) reward for information leading to his capture.

The militants called for reinforcements and about 100 gunmen entered Marawi, a mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people on the southern island of Mindanao, according to the defence secretary, Delfin Lorenzana.

President Rodrigo Duterte said, “We are in a state of emergency,” Duterte said on Wednesday after he cut short a trip to Moscow and flew back to Manila, the Philippine capital. “I have a serious problem in Mindanao and the Isis footprints are everywhere.” He declared martial law for 60 days in Mindanao, home to 22 million people, and vowed to be “harsh”.

“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.” Duterte said he would not allow abuses and law-abiding citizens had nothing to fear.

Marawi’s bishop, Edwin de la Peña, said the militants forced their way into the city’s cathedral and seized a Roman Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three staff.

The priest, Father Chito, and the others had no role in the conflict, said Socrates Villegas, archbishop and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” Villegas said of Chito. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict.”

Villegas said the gunmen were demanding the government recall its forces.

A military spokesman, Col Edgard Arevalo, said 13 militants had been killed, and five soldiers had died and 31 others had been wounded. Other officials said a security guard and two police officers were also killed, including the beheaded chief. Arevalo said troops had cleared militants from a hospital, the city hall and Mindanao State University. About 120 civilians were rescued from the hospital, the military said.

Soldiers and guerrillas set up rival checkpoints and roadblocks on routes in and around Marawi on Wednesday as civilians fled the city in droves, said Mary Jo Henry, an emergency response official. She quoted another official as saying Marawi was like a ghost town.

Duterte met Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, late on Tuesday and said he was counting on Russia to supply weapons for the Philippines to fight terrorism.

“Our country needs modern weapons. We had orders in the United States, but now the situation there is not very smooth, and in order to fight the Islamic State, with their units and factions, we need modern weapons,” he said, according to Tass, the Russian state news agency.