Philippine rescuers and troops on Wednesday recovered mutilated and decomposing bodies of 17 civilians in the southern city of Marawi, depicting the brutality of militants backed by the Islamic State (IS) who have laid siege here for the past month, officials said.
The cadavers were recovered by troops conducting a clearing operation near the village of Gadungan in Marawi before noon, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte disclosed that some of his relatives joined the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute gunmen who had taken over a section of the lakeside city of 200,000 people.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the local military task force, said the remains bore signs that led authorities to believe that they were “helplessly murdered” by the terrorists.
“This is manifestation of Maute brutality. They killed these innocent civilians in cold blood,” Herrera said.
“It’s a risk for the retrieval operations and we are grateful to our volunteers because despite the risk they are here to help us,” he said.
Herrera said the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, indicating that they were killed some time ago when the gunmen launched a deadly orgy of violence that forced the people to abandon Marawi, a major Muslim trading hub.
“The retrieval operations are concentrated in some areas which were previously held by Maute,” he said.
Clashes erupted on May 23 when troops and police moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the southern island of Mindanao.
However, they were met by gunmen composed of militants from the Maute group, backed by an undetermined number of Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters.
The grisly discovery of the bodies came as government troops were struggling to retake the city from the extremists who are believed to now number between 150 and 200 fighters concentrated in a small area of about four villages.
It brought the death toll in more than a month of fighting to 414 people, including 71 government forces and 299 gunmen, the military said.
Crisis management spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong also confirmed the discovery. “This is wanton killing of individuals. It’s beyond evil,” he said.
The gunmen are believed to be holding dozens of hostages, including a Catholic priest. The military on Tuesday said the gunmen forced some of the hostages to convert and marry some of them for the purpose of using them as sex slaves. The claim could not be independently verified.
Efforts to dislodge the enemy fighters have been slow, with the gunmen said to be equipped with weapons the military said they had stockpiled in Marawi.
The rebels are said to have been pushed in the defensive, hiding in trenches and bombed-out structures such as mosques where they have stationed snipers to slow advancing troops.
Full story: BenarNews
Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
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