- Seventy-one security force personnel and 299 militants killed and 246,000 people displaced in conflict since 23 May
Five decapitated civilians were found in a Philippine city occupied by Islamist rebels on Wednesday, the military said, warning the number of residents killed by rebel “atrocities” could rise sharply as troops retake more ground.
The discovery of the five victims among 17 bodies retrieved would be the first evidence that civilians trapped in besieged Marawi City have been decapitated during the five-week stand by militants loyal to the Islamic State group, as some who escaped the city have previously reported.
Seventy-one security force personnel and 299 militants have been killed and 246,000 people displaced in the conflict, which erupted after a failed attempt on 23 May to arrest a Filipino militant commander backed by Isis’s leadership.
President Rodrigo Duterte promised to destroy the militants in Marawi and said the Philippines was now dealing with “a very dangerous situation” due to young Muslims inspired by the “mass insanity” of Isis.
“All they do is just to kill and destroy, and killing in a most brutal way,” he said at an event where he received hundreds of sniper and assault rifles donated by China to help the military campaign in Marawi.
“They enjoy decapitating people in front of cameras. They have to be dealt with, with the same ferocity but not the brutality,” he said.
The information about the beheadings came via a text message to reporters from Lt Cnl Emmanuel Garcia of the Western Mindanao Command.
Garcia did not respond to repeated requests for details.
A civilian rescue worker, Abdul Azis Lomondot, said body parts were found, but with “no proof of beheading”.
Military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said bodies were found separately in two groups, of 12 and five, but he was unable to confirm if the five were beheaded.
The battle entered its 36th day on Wednesday, with intense gunfights and bombing in the heart of the town and black-clad fighters seen from afar running between buildings as explosions rang out.
The rebels’ hold on Marawi, while incurring the full force of a military for years trained by its US counterparts, has much of the region on edge, concerned that Isis’s influence may run deeper than thought.
Those fears are also being felt in Malaysia and Indonesia, whose nationals are among the Maute group of rebels fighting in Marawi, suggesting the group may have built a cross-border network that has gone largely undetected.