Duterte says he had to declare martial law to fight ISIS in Mindanao
Wednesday - 24/05/2017 19:18
I had to declare martial law in the Mindanao group of islands
(CNN) - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said his martial law declaration for the country's restive south was necessary in order to fight militants there.
"I had to declare martial law in the Mindanao group of islands," Duterte said at a news conference Wednesday in Manila. "It is our constitutional duty to enforce the law and provide security."
Duterte's order -- which covers both the city of Marawi and the wider island of Mindanao, of which Marawi is a part -- came after deadly clashes broke out between Filipino government troops and Islamist militants Tuesday.
If the terror threat spreads, Duterte said, he's not afraid to go further.
"If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people," said the President, who cut short a visit to Russia to come home to deal with the violence.
Fighting between government forces and the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao, beganTuesday afternoon in Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people.
ISIS' media wing, Amaq Agency, put out a statement announcing that "fighters of the Islamic State launch a wide-scale offensive on positions of Philippine troops in the city of Marawi."
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed that the fighters had taken over several government buildings in the city, and had torched others, including a church, a school and the city jail. It was not clear from his statement how damaged the buildings were by the arson.
Mindanao is home to a sizable Muslim population, in contrast to the remainder of the country, which is overwhelmingly Catholic.
The militants also reportedly took over a medical center and replaced the Philippines flag with a black, ISIS-style banner.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said that Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, was among the armed men.
Three government troops died in the fighting, said Abella, and 12 were injured. Martial law was declared about 10 p.m. Tuesday, and reinforcements were expected.
"Our operation is still ongoing in Marawi City and sporadic fighting is still continuing," a statement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.
"The joint AFP-PNP team that is after Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts is determined to finish him off," the statement said.
Residents were sheltering in their houses overnight, Abella said. But CNN Philippines reported that many residents were evacuating Marawi City because of the fighting and that traffic jams were occurring along the main roads.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed that a priest in Marawi City has been taken hostage, reported CNN Philippines.
Members of the Maute terror group forced their way into a cathedral and took Father Teresito "Chito" Suganob, along with a few others, CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said Wednesday.