Philippines official: Terror suspect still in besieged city

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Philippine security forces on May 23, 2017, raided a hideout in Marawi city in the volatile southern region of Mindanao, in search of Hapilon. Plumes of black smoke rose in the distance and two air force helicopters could be seen flying over the city centre.

“Clashes erupted at 2 pm on Tuesday as the military moved to hunt down “high-value targets” who sneaked into the city, based on reports from residents”.

The military said it was optimistic they could end the conflict sooner rather than later.

In this photo taken on August 30, 2016, shows Philippine soldiers taking their position as they serve as a blocking force, in the town of Paktikul, sulu province in southern island of Mindanao, as they carry out President Duterte’s orders to “destroy” the militants.

Mr Duterte visited a military unit near Marawi on Friday and reminded troops that Mr Hapilon was affiliated with the Islamic State.

Thousands of household residents flee from Marawi City to avoid getting hit in the sporadic crossfire between government soldiers and members of the Maute militant group. It could not be immediately established if the two were involved with the militant group or were visiting the city.

As details of the attack in Marawi city emerged, fears mounted that the largest Catholic nation in Asia could be falling into a growing list of countries grappling with the spread of influence from the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Maute, the ISIS-linked group, has reportedly set fires on various structures, including a hospital and a school, laid siege to a prison, seized hostages and entered civilian homes.

“In this spirit of Muslim peace, the president has offered the hand of peaceful dialogue to terrorist groups, to avoid bloodshed in this time of prayer, fasting and mercy”.

“We are also acting on reports of armed men occupying the hospital and some other buildings”, the military official said. If you fight us you will die.

Gunmen are trying to find a way to extricate Hapilon, who suffered a stroke after a government airstrike wounded him in January, Ano said.

“Right now, he is still inside (the city)”, Gen. Eduardo Ano told The Associated Press.

The US and other Western governments warned this month that terrorists were planning to kidnap foreigners in tourist hot spots in the western and central Philippines, adding to longstanding advisories of abduction threats in Mindanao. He said governmental planes are at their disposal for the wounded to be transported and the best medical equipment is available.

Khye Amerol, one of those moving out of Marawi said that they made a decision to move out Marawi after hearing loud sporadic exchanges of gunfire on Wednesday morning. “We have to finish this”.

Manila Solicitor General Jose Calida told reporters Friday that Indonesians and Malaysians are fighting in Marawi.

Duterte said martial law under Marcos was “very good” and he might consider more security measures elsewhere in the Philippines.

He said to the troops: “We will win, right?”

Much of Marawi was still a no-go zone.

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The objective of Tuesday’s raid was to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group which is notorious for piracy and for kidnapping and beheading Westerners. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which have a heavy presence in Marawi and were instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

Fighting in Marawi subsides, says mayor

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