Philippines deploys helicopters in battle
to retake city from Islamist rebels
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[May 25, 2017]
By Romeo Ranoco
MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) - Troops
backed by attack helicopters battled dozens of militants linked to the
Islamic State group holed up in a besieged city in the southern
Philippines on Thursday after attempts to secure volatile areas met
The army sent about 100 soldiers, including U.S.-trained special forces,
to retake buildings and streets in mainly Muslim Marawi City held by
militants of the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic
Thousands fled as rebels seized large parts of the city and torched
buildings in running battles with government forces that erupted on
Tuesday afternoon after a failed raid by security forces on one of the
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law on impoverished
Mindanao, the country's second-largest island, to prevent the spread of
extremism after the Maute rebels rampaged through the city of 200,000
At least 21 people have been killed since then. Religious leaders have
also accused the rebels of using Christians, taken hostage during the
fighting, as human shields.
"We're confronting maybe 30 to 40 remaining from the local terrorist
group," said Jo-Ar Herrera, a spokesman for the military's First
"The military is conducting precise, surgical operations to flush them
out ... The situation is very fluid and movements are dynamic because we
wanted to out-step and out-maneuver them," he said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility late on Wednesday for Maute's
activities via its Amaq news agency.
Hostilities had eased overnight but flared again later on Thursday
morning when troops advanced towards a strategic bridge held by Maute
The military sent in two helicopters with machine guns to flush out
rebels and take control of the bridge, one of three operations in the
Trucks were being sent to evacuate any remaining civilians. A total of
seven government troops, 13 militants and one civilian had been killed
since Tuesday, Herrera said.
A Reuters witness could see soldiers crouched behind armored vehicles
and walls around lunchtime on Thursday, firing volleys of gunshots
towards elevated positions occupied by Maute rebels. Smoke could also be
seen on the horizon.
Marawi is located in Lanao del Sur province, a stronghold of the Maute,
a fierce, but little-known group that has been a tricky opponent for the
[to top of second column]
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes the honor guards upon
arrival from Russia at the Ninoy Aquino International airport in
Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De
Its activities are a source of concern for Mindanao native Duterte,
who is familiar with separatist unrest but alarmed by the prospect
of Islamic State's radical ideology spreading in the Philippines.
Hundreds of civilians, including children, were sheltering in a
military camp in Marawi City on Thursday. The Maute had taken more
than a dozen Christians hostage and set free 107 prisoners from two
jails since Tuesday.
Bishops and cardinals had pleaded with the Maute rebels, who they
said were using Christians and a priest as human shields. The status
of the captives was unknown.
Duterte threatened harsh measures to prevent extremists taking a
hold in Mindanao and said martial law would remain in place for as
long as it took to restore order. It was not clear what exactly
Duterte planned to do to achieve that once the Marawi siege ends.
Human rights groups are concerned about possible abuses by the
military and police in places under martial rule, but Duterte has
insisted he will not allow that to happen.
The military has not explained how Tuesday's raid on an apartment
hideout went so badly wrong and spiraled into urban warfare.
The operation was aimed at capturing Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of
the Abu Sayyaf group notorious for piracy, banditry and for
kidnapping and decapitating Westerners.
"Based on our intelligence, Isnilon Hapilon is still in the city,"
(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in DAVAO CITY; Writing
by Enrico Dela Cruz and Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)
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