Philippine Officials Release Gruesome Photos of Marawi Destruction

Richel V. Umel and Jeoffrey Maitem
2017.06.29
Marawi City, Philippines
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170629-PH-marawi-620.jpg A photograph released by Filipino officials shows skeletal remains scattered in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, June 29, 2017.
Handout/Zia Alonto Adiong/Marawi City

Philippine authorities on Thursday released gruesome photographs taken from inside a southern city occupied by gunmen backed by the Islamic State (IS), providing what officials described as evidence that the extremists had embarked on a killing spree.

Members of a humanitarian mission who were allowed to rescue trapped residents took the photographs inside the conflict zone of Marawi city, where security forces are engaged in fierce firefights with IS-backed militants.

The photographs show an abandoned city in ruins with bombed-out homes and uncollected human skeletons littering the streets.

The pictures were released a day after the military recovered 17 decomposing bodies – apparently of civilians – who were trying to flee the fighting.

The photographs are a “confirmation of our fear each day” that civilians might have been killed by the gunmen, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the local crisis management team.

“We were lost for words. We could not describe what we feel. This is really beyond evil,” Adiong told BenarNews. “We feel helpless, and at the same time angry at the destruction.”

He said the photographs provided crucial evidence that the Abu Sayyaf and Maute gunmen had killed civilians when they took over the city on May 23 with the help of foreign militants.

Continuing offensive

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman, said at least 1,711 civilians trapped inside the battle zone have been rescued by troops. Dozens more are believed being held captive, including Marawi’s top Catholic priest and his aides.

So far, 71 soldiers and 303 gunmen have been killed along with 44 civilians. This includes the 17 bodies recovered Wednesday.

The Marawi siege began when troops and police moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the southern island of Mindanao.

They were met by gunmen composed of militants from the Maute group, backed by an undetermined number of Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters.

Herrera said the military was slowly advancing toward enemy positions in four villages in Marawi, which has been emptied by its 200,000 residents.

“The more we recover guns from them, take down their positions, the more we are gaining grounds and vantage positions. We are navigating close to them,” Herrera said, referring to the militant extremists.

Herrera said Abdullah Maute, one of the main extremist leaders, is believed to be inside Marawi leading his men in the fight. His brother, Omarkhayam, however is believed to have died along with a senior Malaysian IS militant identified as Mahmud Ahmad.

“He (Abdullah) is very visible in the area and he is the one leading the battle positions of the enemy,” Herrera said.

Fire and smoke rise over Marawi City after a series of airstrikes carried out by military fighter jets, June 29, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

Fresh airstrikes

The military on Thursday launched fresh airstrikes, as fighting marked its 36th day and soldiers encountered resistance from the militants who were occupying at least four villages, officials said.

Local reporters said they could hear the exchange of gunfire coming from the war zone.

Retired Army Col. Pendatun Guro, a Marawi native who never deserted his home since the start of the conflict, said the government must drop more bombs on the extremists’ stronghold.

He said most houses in Marawi were built to withstand attacks, with more than 10 inches of solid cement walls and roof. Guro said a 500-pound bomb could not destroy the houses, but said continuing airstrikes would eventually weaken the structures.

“The houses where the enemies are hiding are all solid. Here in Marawi, clan war is common, so people build houses that can protect their families,” he said.

A military convoy passes by a highway while heading to reinforce troops fighting the militant extremists in Marawi City, June 29, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

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