Muslim religious leaders are urged to dissuade Maute fighters from using places of worship as military posts. Four of the city’s 96 neighbourhoods remain in Islamist hands. The Islamic State group posts a video showing the execution of six Christians.
Zamboanga (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not bomb mosques held by Islamist extremists in the city of Marawi; however, they have urged Muslim clerics to persuade Maute fighters to refrain from using places of worship as military posts for their attacks. This comes as the Islamic State (IS) group posted a video showing the execution of six Christian hostages.
In a statement, the AFP said it respected places of worship and other cultural and heritage sites. “As such the Chief of Staff of AFP gives his assurance that the AFP will do everything possible to protect and preserve these places. We do call on our religious leaders of every faith to call upon all parties to respect these places,” it said.
The military issued the press release after a military spokesman in Mindanao said on Tuesday that they were forced to target mosques in their surgical strikes because snipers had taken refuge in these areas.
“The AFP assures our Muslim brothers and Islamic faithful that it will not go down to the level of these terrorists who desecrate places of worship to lure government security forces into responding to their violent activities in a similar manner,” said AFP spokesperson Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla.
As military operations to free Marawi from Maute Jihadi control continue after the terror group invaded the city on 23 May, the AFP decided against setting deadlines after a number failed.
The military had set 2 June as a deadline, then putting it off to 12 June, Philippines Independence Day. Now “We will ensure that we will be able to clear it of any armed element that still exists, and it may take some time,” Brig Gen Padilla told reporters.
The terror group is holed up in only four of the city’s 96 barangays (neighbourhoods) – Marinaut, Lulut, Mapandi and Bongolo Commercial District, which only comprise 20 per cent of the city.
Padilla said the AFP were “very careful” in their operations to avoid hitting innocent civilians. He estimated that about 100 militants were still fighting – down from the 400-500 believed to have stormed the town.
Through its news agency, Amaq, IS on Monday said that Filipino Forces had "completely failed" to recapture the capital of Lanao del Sur. IS "fighters are spread in more than two-thirds of Marawi and tighten the chokehold on the Philippine army that is incapable of maintaining control of the situation," it said.
Similarly, Amaq posted a video on the chat app Telegram showing militants executing six Christians in Marawi. It was not clear who the men were and when they were killed
The terrorist group still holds more than 250 hostages, mostly Christians and tribals, including Fr Teresito ‘Chito’ Suganob, who was captured at Marawi’s Catholic Cathedral along with 14 other people. The church itself was desecrated at the start of the attack.
Rescuers said many of the hundreds still trapped in combat areas were dying of hunger. Volunteers have been trying to extricate civilians caught in the crossfire via "peace corridors", but many of those trapped were still opting to hide rather than risk being discovered by the militants and executed.
Some residents who managed to escape said that jihadis were going around asking civilians about their religion in order to find Christians.
As fighting enters its fourth week, the death toll among civilians has risen to 26. So far, 58 soldiers and policemen have died. Security officials said 202 militants have been killed.