MARAWI, Philippines, May 29, (Agencies): Philippine forces control most of a southern city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week ago, authorities said Monday, as the army launched airstrikes and went house-to-house to crush areas of resistance.
More than 100 people, including 24 civilians, have been killed in six days of fighting, the government said. Many more were believed to be trapped inside the city. “I have to rescue my grandfather even at the risk of my life,” Khana-Anuar Marabur Jr said Monday after police stopped him for speeding through a checkpoint. He said his grandfather had been sending him text messages asking to be saved. “Get me out of here alive, not dead,” one message said. “This war is taking too long.”
The crisis in Marawi, which is home to some 200,000 people, has raised fears that extremism in the southern Philippines is increasing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.
Only small areas of Marawi remain under militants’ control after six days of fighting, said Brig Gen Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman.
In recent days, gunmen have managed to fend off attack helicopters, armored vehicles and scores of soldiers. “We can control who comes in and who comes out, who moves around and who doesn’t, and we are trying to isolate these pockets of resistance that have remained,” Padilla said.
Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa said the operation takes time because the gunmen take advantage of the urban environment, moving quickly from building to building to evade capture. “I cannot give operational details, but I am sure they are also human, they will also get tired,” he said.
According to government figures Monday, the death toll was 105 people — 61 militants, 20 government forces and 24 civilians. The bodies of several civilians were found on the streets Sunday as soldiers cleared neighborhoods.
In one area, the bodies of eight men who appeared to have been executed by militants were found in a ravine, police said. The bodies of four other men, three women and a child were found near a road close to Mindanao State University in Marawi. The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte last week to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. Marawi is a mostly Muslim city.
Philippine authorities said Monday that they have seized 605 kilograms (1,334 pounds) of high-grade methamphetamine shipped from China following a tip from the Chinese government. National Bureau of Investigation officials said the drugs, with a street value of 6.05 billion pesos ($121.4 million), were seized over the weekend from a brokerage warehouse in metropolitan Manila, while a portion was intercepted from a shipment consignee.
The operation was jointly conducted with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, police and the Bureau of Customs, which alerted the NBI on information from China’s Office of National Narcotics Control Commission about a large shipment of illegal drugs. “This is a good sign of cooperation not only of the different agencies under the present administration but also the international community,” NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said at a news conference.
The NBI seized 505 kilograms (1,113 pounds) of the drugs, popularly known as shabu, from a warehouse in Valenzuela City in operations Friday and Saturday. The drugs were contained in plastic bags inside metal cylinders that were placed in four crates. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency also seized 100 kilograms (220 pounds) from another warehouse of a consignee on Saturday. Two suspects who received the illegal shipment have been taken into custody. Since taking office last year, President Rodrigo Duterte has launched a war on illegal drugs that has last left thousands of suspected drug dealers and addicts dead.