BREAKING: Almost 100 DEAD After ATTACK Helicopters Launch Rockets- Here’s What We Know

Philippine marines patrol a deserted street in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on May 30, 2017.
Philippine authorities on May 30 warned Islamist militants occupying parts of a southern city to surrender or die, as attack helicopters pounded the gunmen’s strongholds where up to 2,000 residents were feared trapped. / AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

Dean James AMERICA’S FREEDOM FIGHTERS –

Philippine troops have killed almost 100 Islamist militants during more than a week of urban battles but a final showdown is expected to be fierce as the gunmen protect their leaders and hold hostages, authorities said Wednesday.

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The military intensified a bombing campaign on parts of Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly Catholic nation, as it accused the gunmen of atrocities including murdering women and a children. Attack helicopters fired rockets Wednesday morning into parts of Marawi that were still controlled by the militants fighting under the black flag of ISIS.

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The initial fighting prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on Tuesday across the southern third of the Philippines to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat from terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.

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Close to 100 militants had been killed in the fighting and the amount of territory in the city that the remaining gunmen controlled had been cut to just 10 percent, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said Wednesday.

However Padilla warned of more intense battles ahead, with the military believing three of the militants’ main leaders were likely still in the city.

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“That 10 percent is most likely the area that is heavily guarded and defended by any armed men if they are protecting any individual of high value,” Padilla said.

The militants are also holding an unknown number of civilians hostage, according to Padilla and other authorities.

Most of the city’s 200,000 residents have fled because of the fighting, but 2,000 remain trapped in areas controlled by the militants, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.

“They want to leave. They are afraid for their safety. Some are running out of food to eat. They fear they will be hit by bullets, by airstrikes,” he said.

The military announced on Saturday, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that it would step up the bombing.

“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” said military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla.

“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive. Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city and to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”

They initially took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage at the start of the crisis.

A video of the priest appeared on social media Tuesday, in which he repeated the militants’ demands to withdraw and said his captors were holding 240 people hostage.

Padilla said the number of people cited in the video as being held hostage could not be verified.

He insisted the release of the footage showed the militants were becoming increasingly desperate and said security forces would not back down.

“They are trapped, they are contained, they are in areas that they will never come up alive unless they surrender,” Padilla said.

 

 

The clashes erupted when security forces raided a house to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as ISIS’ leader in the Philippines and who is on the U.S. government’s list of most-wanted terrorists, The Daily Star reports.

Authorities said they were taken by surprise when dozens of gunmen emerged to protect Hapilon and then went on a rampage through Marawi, the Philippines’ main Islamic city with a population of 200,000.

Hapilon was being protected by members of the local Maute group, a small band of militants who has declared allegiance to ISIS, according to the government.

Malaysians, Singaporean, Indonesian and other fighters had been involved in the unrest, according to the military.

Hapilon and the two Maute leaders — brothers after whose surname the group is named — were still believed to be in Marawi, local military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera told reporters.

The main Muslim rebel groups have signed accords with the government aimed at forging lasting peace, giving up their separatist ambitions in return for autonomy.

The Maute and other hardline groups have rejected the peace process.

Duterte and military chiefs have said most of the militants belong to the local Maute group, which has declared allegiance to IS and which the government estimates has about 260 armed followers.

Duterte has said local criminals are also backing the Maute in Marawi.

Cooperation between Islamist militants, criminals and corrupt politicians is common across Mindanao, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has claimed more than 120,000 lives since the 1970s.

The main Muslim rebel groups have signed accords with the government aimed at forging a final peace, giving up their separatist ambitions in return for autonomy.

The Maute, Abu Sayyaf and other small hardline groups are not interested in negotiating and have in recent years looked to IS to help them.

Duterte said Saturday he was prepared to enforce martial law for as long as was necessary to end the terrorist threat, and even ignore constitutionally mandated safeguards such as Supreme Court and congressional oversight.

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