Propaganda Video Means Gunmen are Losing in Marawi: Philippine Military

Richel Umel and Mark Navales
Marawi, Philippines
170531-PH-marawi-620.jpg A soldier stands guard over a cache of weapons and a black Islamic State flag seized from fallen fighters in Marawi City, May 31, 2017.
Felipe Villamor/BenarNews

Updated at 12:57 p.m. ET on 2020-07-22

As Philippine troops kept up bombardments in the southern city of Marawi on Wednesday, the military said that Islamic State-linked militants had become desperate by releasing a video showing a Catholic priest appealing for the siege to stop.

Armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said military forensics experts had viewed the video and were analyzing its authenticity. He dismissed it as propaganda material.

“It means that they’re fighting for survival, they’re trapped, contained in areas they’ll not come alive (from) unless they surrender,” Padilla told reporters in Manila.

He said the military was appealing to members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups to “come to their senses, lay down their weapons and surrender.”

He said troops had retaken about 90 percent of Marawi City, a once vibrant Islamic center of 200,000 people in the predominantly Catholic nation.

The fighting erupted last week when troops and police sent to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon found themselves faced by dozens of Abu Sayyaf fighters aided by members of the smaller Maute gang and some Southeast Asian fighters.

Intense clashes ensued, with the rebels spreading out across the city, torching buildings, killing Christians and seizing dozens of hostages. The violence forced President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire southern island of Mindanao under full military control.

Authorities said at least 65 rebel fighters, 24 civilians and 20 government forces have lost their lives. Dozens of soldiers have been wounded.

On Tuesday, one of those kidnapped, Catholic priest Teresito Soganub, was shown in a video message calling on the military to halt unceasing bombardment of rebel areas. The video was posted and shared in social media accounts followed by Islamic State supporters.

It did not state when or where it was taken, but the background shows an area heavily damaged by fighting. Gunfire could be heard in the distance.

The bearded Soganub was shown in the video appealing to Duterte to cease the military offensive, saying he was with 240 people captured by the gunmen who are desperate to get out of the city. Officials said the number of people Soganub mentioned in the video could not be verified.

“We are asking for your help to please give what they are asking for. To withdraw forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City and to stop the air attacks and to stop the cannons,” Soganub said. Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, is about 1,170 km (730 miles) south of the country’s capital Manila.

Soganub said the captives “want to live another day, another month. We want to leave another year, two years.”

The continuing aerial bombardment and intermittent clashes on Marawi streets have made it difficult for humanitarian assistance and fleeing civilians to navigate. Rebel snipers have positioned themselves in vantage points as troops, backed by Italian-made SF-260 attack aircraft, continue to advance.

A woman is evacuated in an ambulance after falling from her two-story home at the height of fighting. [Felipe Villamor/BenarNews]

Civilians trapped

The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 3,000 people are known to be trapped in sections of Marawi held by the gunmen. Officials earlier conceded the actual number of those trapped was difficult to assess.

Rescuers and volunteers tied strips of white cloth on vehicles as they zoomed in to pick up trapped civilians.

In the town of Bangon, five hungry and panicked civilians were plucked out to safety, but rescuers said more are trapped.

Marines earlier this week displayed a cache of firearms left behind by fleeing rebels or recovered from those who died. It included a machine gun and a sniper rifle capable of hitting a target as far as two kilometers (more than a mile) away.

About 40 to 50 gunmen are believed hiding in at least two buildings in the center of Marawi, officials said. Going into the area was also dangerous because their position affords them a view of two buildings that connect the area to the rest of the city.

Government officials said they intend to finish the fight as soon as possible, but military officials were quick to say that the gunmen were well-armed.

Photos circulating in militant websites show the gunmen armed with assault rifles. They were also shown standing atop two Army armored personnel carriers that have been left behind. BenarNews could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the photos.

The outburst of violence underscores earlier warnings expressed by security analysts that young relatives of those who fought in decades of bloody separatist Muslim rebellion in the south could be infiltrated by outsiders with more radical views.

The mineral rich south has largely been underdeveloped because of the rebellion. A 2014 peace pact signed between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had fought a separatist rebellion, was hoped to bring peace to the south. Instead, young, radicalized members have splintered and joined other groups with more violent tendencies.

Two machine guns are displayed after soldiers took them from fallen Islamic State-linked fighters, May 31, 2017. [Felipe Villamor/BenarNews]

CORRECTION: An earlier version misspelled the name of the priest, Father Teresito Soganub.


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