From the Gulf News (May 23): Heavy fighting breaks out in Marawi City ahead of Ramadan
Military reports presence of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in the area
Clashes erupted Tuesday afternoon in Marawi City between security forces and members of the Maute terror in two villages of the city as sources said militants have seized several government installations.
Reports reaching Manila said heavy fighting broke out at around 3pm in the villages of Caloocan and Basak Malatut as police commandos, backed by units of the Philippine Army 103rd Brigade based in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, clashed with an armed group believed to be members of the Maute or the Dawaah Islamiyah, a group that had pledged allegiance to the Middle East and North Africa-based Daesh.
“I was told by my relatives in Marawi City that they had never witnessed fighting this heavy since the 1970s during the Moro uprising,” Liningding Abato Drieza told Gulf News in a phone interview from Cagayan de Oro.
“The Maute are besieging the city jail and are trying to free some of their jailed comrades,” he said, adding that the militants are already holding a number of hostages taken from a local hospital and have entered the campus of the Mindanao State University.
Certain areas of the city are also without power.
Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao is located a little more than a hundred kilometres away from Marawi City.
Armed Forces Spokesperson Brigadier Restituto Padilla said they received information that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon is in the area.
Reports said the air force had launched air strikes against targets in Marawi City to dislodge the militants.
It can be recalled that in November 2016 and January 2017, Maute militants attacked and occupied the municipality of Butig in Lanao del Norte, resulting in dozens of casualties for both sides.
Butig is less than 50 kilometres away from Marawi City.
Lanao del Sur provincial police director, Senior Supt. Oscar Nantes, said the police, backed by the army, tried to serve search warrants when armed men opened fire.
Marawi City is located in a strategic area separating the Zamboanga peninsula in Western Mindanao, and Northern Mindanao.
Drieza said Marawi City residents are apprehensive that Martial Law would be declared of hostilities continue.
The fighting also took place as Muslims set to observe Ramadan fasting month.
The Maute has founded by brothers Omar and Abdulla Maute who had been exposed to radical Islamic teachings during their time in the Middle East.
Successive government offensives against the Maute group over the past several month had resulted in the death of some of its members. According to the military, the radical organisation were recruiting youngsters to its fold in recent weeks.