Islamic State-linked gunmen on the run from Philippine forces abducted a Catholic priest and three others Wednesday, officials said, as President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to expand martial law he imposed a day earlier in the country’s south.
Sporadic clashes went on for a second day around the southern city of Marawi, with many of its 200,000 residents fleeing the violence,after dozens of suspected Muslim extremists occupied a hospital, burned buildings and battled government troops.
By Wednesday evening (local time), the death toll from two days of clashes stood at 13 militants, five soldiers and one policeman. More than 30 government troops were wounded, the military said.
Violence broke out Tuesday after a joint police and military team was sent in the area to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a senior commander of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group who earlier pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (IS).
Hapilon (alias Abu Musab), an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher, is listed on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists and the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program offers up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.
Officials said about 100 members of the Maute group, which was blamed for a September bombing that killed 15 people in another southern Philippine city, backed up the militants.
The gunmen set fire to at least three establishments, including a university, and stormed the Cathedral of Our Lady Help, taking with them a local priest identified as Chito Sagunob and several others, said Manila Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
“They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled,” he said.
“We beg every Filipino to pray fervently for Father Chito and for other hostages. As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration,” Villegas said.
Jesus Dureza, a senior presidential adviser, said about 1,000 extra soldiers were deployed to the region Wednesday to double the force of the troops already operating there.
“Expect that there will be more presence of the military in the area. It’s not only directed at the Maute terror group but all private armed groups as well to those all groups that will fight against the government,” Dureza told BenarNews.
Full story: BenarNews
Richel Umel, Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
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