Philippines: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao amid clashes

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared martial law in the southern region of Mindanao after approximately 100 Islamist militants laid siege to a city there following a firefight with government forces.

Lorenzana said the Maute group has torched St. Mary's Church, the Marawi City Jail, the Ninoy Aquino School, and Dansalan College. They understand that the presence of President Duterte is essential in the Philippines but I will be staying behind.

Duterte had said on many occasions he was prepared to declare martial law to quell the terrorism threat. He said offensives would also be staged in other southern provinces plagued by extremist groups.

Last night, Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra went on television to seek for military reinforcement.

He said the fighting began when police and troops raided a house on Tuesday afternoon where Hapilon, the subject of a US State Department bounty of US$5 million, was believed to be hiding. Ano said almost 50 gunmen in all managed to enter the bustling commercial city of more than 200,000 people. "We will clear the area", he said.

Herrera also said that they have yet to verify reports that members of the Maute Group occupied and raised an "ISIS" flag at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center during their attack.

Troops sealed off major entry and exit points to prevent Hapilon from escaping, Ano told The Associated Press by telephone from Moscow, where he was accompanying Duterte.

He said security forces did not anticipate the number Maute sympathizers that may have helped the militants slip into the city.

"So we immediately launched a surgical operation to neutralize the group who plan to conduct terrorist attacks in Marawi City".

The militants belong to the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in the Middle East. "We can do that easily", Ano said, but added it was more hard in an urban setting because of the need to avoid civilian casualties. Under his leadership, an estimated 7,000 people have been killed in extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch reported, with official police reports asserting self-defense to justify police killings.

The announcement came after security forces battled dozens of IS-linked gunmen in a built-up area of Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people in Mindanao, on Tuesday.

Lorenzana, who is in Russian Federation with the president's delegation, said that the fighting in Marawi City started Tuesday afternoon as police and military were moving to serve a warrant of arrest on Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

As the Philippine news service Rappler reports, the declaration of martial law actually fulfills a warning made by the president just days ago.

Muslim rebels have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in Mindanao, with the conflict claiming more than 130,000 lives.

Abella and Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana later clarified martial law applied to all of Mindanao.

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