Residents flee three days after Muslim militants lay siege in Marawi city in southern Philippines Thursday, May 25, 2017.
The homegrown rebellion in Mindanao has turned into an "invasion by foreign terrorists" after some were among those killed in the intensified military operations in Marawi City, top government officials announced on Friday. "I will not hesitate to do it", he said.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao Island, which includes Marawi, in an attempt to curtail the chaos. He has been pleading with Mindanao governors and religious leaders to work with the government to keep extremists at bay.
The southern Philippines has long faced Islamist insurgencies, but Duterte has warned IS seeks to spread its influence and ideology. Its activities are a source of concern for Mindanao native Duterte, who is familiar with separatist unrest but alarmed by the presence of radicals inspired by Islamic State's radical agenda. "While the U.S. Embassy has no information that the events in Marawi City represent a direct threat to U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the Philippines", read the statement, "we encourage U.S. citizens to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings and remain vigilant at all times". Marawi has a population of around 200,000.
Two civilians were also killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday, and the military was investigating reports that nine people had been murdered at a checkpoint the militants had set up, authorities said. Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into t.
The key thing here is I think we're seeing a difference in perception.
"We were so scared and so were our Muslim brothers and sisters".
"We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God - the very same God we Christians worship and adore - to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God's most exalted attributes", prayed Archbishop Villegas.
"These terrorists are not real Muslims".
The Maute are a jihadist group indigenous to the Philippines who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
"May the loving God protect the people of Marawi", said the cardinal, whose see is also on Mindanao. The infamous Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon has also been declared by the ISIS as its emir or leader in the Philippines, he added.
In the city where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and enjoys a cult-like following, residents were supportive of martial law.
They are one of the dozens of new Muslim groups who have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Philippine outlet ABS-CBN reports that the military has begun conducting "surgical airstrikes" on Maute/Abu Sayyaf positions in Marawi.
The Abu Sayyaf is infamous for kidnapping foreigners and killing them if ransoms are not paid. Last year, members of the Maute were arrested in connection with a bombing at a night market in Davao City, Duterte's hometown. The Maute was also blamed for a failed bombing near the USA embassy in Manila in November.