From the New York Times (Jun 28): Philippine Military Says 17 Mutilated Civilian Bodies Found in Marawi
Credit Jorge Silva/Reuters
The Philippine military said on Wednesday that troops had found the mutilated bodies of 17 civilians in the besieged southern city of Marawi, where government forces have been struggling to dislodge militants who have entrenched themselves for the last month.
The bodies were recovered Wednesday while troops and police officers conducted clearing operations near Gadungan, a devastated section of the city. The discovery came more than a month after Islamic State-inspired gunmen with the Abu Sayyaf and Maute militant groups overran Marawi, a city of 200,000.
“The recovered cadavers are believed to be among those civilians who were helplessly murdered by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists,” said Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista of the Philippine Army. “This is a manifestation of their brutality. They killed these innocent civilians in cold blood.”
The grisly discovery came as government troops were struggling to retake the city from the Islamist militants, whose numbers are believed to have dwindled to between 150 and 200 fighters.
The recovered bodies brought the death toll in more than a month of fighting to 44 civilians, 71 soldiers and police officers and 299 militants, the military said.
The militants are believed to be holding dozens of hostages who officials say are being used as human shields, including a Roman Catholic priest. The military said Tuesday that the gunmen also forced the hostages to convert to Islam and marry some of them for use as sex slaves.
The fighting began on May 23, when the police and the military tried to arrest the leader of an Abu Sayyaf faction, Isnilon Hapilon, said to be the leader of the Philippine branch of the Islamic State.
The attempt was thwarted by fighters from Abu Sayyaf and Maute, backed by militants from elsewhere in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, who then went on a rampage in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city in the mostly Catholic Philippines.
A truck carrying bodies in Marawi on Wednesday. The Philippine military said that troops had found the mutilated bodies of 17 civilians in the city. Credit Jorge Silva/Reuters
The government has struggled in its efforts to dislodge the enemy fighters, who are believed to be heavily armed and hiding in trenches and bombed-out homes and mosques.
Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman, said Wednesday that the government was observing a “no negotiation policy” amid earlier reports that one of the leaders of the Maute group, Abdullah Maute, was willing to free the priest in exchange for the release of his parents, who were captured earlier.
Mr. Hapilon is believed to be holed up in Marawi, although recent unconfirmed intelligence reports suggest he may have fled the area.
Mr. Padilla said that Mr. Hapilon must be caught “dead or alive.”
“As to the hostages, we’re not negotiating at this point,” he added. “We know the mind-set of these people. We know how they think. So regardless of negotiations or not, they may end up killing them anyway.”
President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night also revealed that he had relatives who had joined the militants in Marawi.
“I have cousins who joined the Maute,” Mr. Duterte said at a dinner in Manila to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. “Because they were there, a cousin of mine died. They went there, a truckload of them.”
At the dinner, he discussed knowing about how the militants were stockpiling arms and were fortifying positions in Marawi before he decided to declare martial law. The declaration of martial law came shortly after the military attacked the militants, only to be met with fierce resistance.
He said his presidential guards knew about his relatives joining the militants’ cause and asked him about it, to which he said he replied, “They are my cousins. Let them be.”
He said they may have joined the militants “for the sake of adventure.”