In the southern Philippines, heavy fighting continues between military forces and Daesh militants, who have taken positions in urban areas and are facing a government operation to drive them out.
Street-to-street battles and a military bombing campaign in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the country, continued on Monday.
“It’s very chaotic. Helicopters are dropping bombs; lots of military [personnel] are coming into our area. There are no more people in our town. It’s like a no man’s land,” a resident of Marawi, Rodjan Galupo, told media.
Authorities say some 2,000 people remain trapped in the city and fear that they would be killed by the militants if they attempted to leave.
“They are texting us and calling us for help,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.
Authorities said the militants had already killed at least 19 civilians, including women and children, while 17 members of the security forces had also died in the clashes. Some 61 militants were also reported to have been killed in Marawi in the seven days since the military operation has begun.
Meanwhile, most of Marawi’s 200,000 residents have fled, many seeking refuge in the nearby town of Iligan, which is on lockdown over fears that militants may have sneaked into the city. Authorities are now concerned that Maute militants — who have pledged allegiance to Daesh — are blending in with the evacuees in Iligan and could launch terrorist attacks there.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has declared martial law in the south, has warned that Daesh was trying to set up a local branch in the Philippines.
Witnesses said they had seen militants in Marawi flying the Daesh flag and wearing black outfits and headbands typical of the Takfiri group, which is mainly concentrated in Iraq and Syria.
Duterte has said he would extend the martial law for as long as necessary to end the terrorist threat gripping the country.
The violence began when dozens of gunmen went on a rampage throughout Marawi in response to an attempt by security forces to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a local militant who has joined Daesh and been appointed a local leader of the terrorist group.
Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean and other foreign militants have joined those in the Philippines, according to the military. More than 100 inmates, who had escaped a local jail during the initial rampage last week, were also suspected to have joined the militants.
Meanwhile, the main Muslim opposition groups have signed accords with the government, giving up their long-running separatist ambitions in return for autonomy.