Philippine Military: 17 Mutilated Bodies of Civilians Found in Besieged Marawi City

Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
2017.06.28
Marawi, Philippines
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170628-ph-IS-marawi-620.jpg A doctor checks a baby at a makeshift hospital in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, where thousands of residents have fled from firefights between Islamic State-backed militants and security forces, June 27, 2017.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Philippine rescuers and troops on Wednesday recovered mutilated and decomposing bodies of 17 civilians in the southern city of Marawi, depicting the brutality of militants backed by the Islamic State (IS) who have laid siege here for the past month, officials said.

The cadavers were recovered by troops conducting a clearing operation near the village of Gadungan in Marawi before noon, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte disclosed that some of his relatives joined the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute gunmen who had taken over a section of the lakeside city of 200,000 people.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the local military task force, said the remains bore signs that led authorities to believe that they were “helplessly murdered” by the terrorists.

“This is manifestation of Maute brutality. They killed these innocent civilians in cold blood,” Herrera said.

“It’s a risk for the retrieval operations and we are grateful to our volunteers because despite the risk they are here to help us,” he said.

Herrera said the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, indicating that they were killed some time ago when the gunmen launched a deadly orgy of violence that forced the people to abandon Marawi, a major Muslim trading hub.

“The retrieval operations are concentrated in some areas which were previously held by Maute,” he said.

Clashes erupted on May 23 when troops and police moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the southern island of Mindanao.

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

The grisly discovery of the bodies came as government troops were struggling to retake the city from the extremists who are believed to now number between 150 and 200 fighters concentrated in a small area of about four villages.

It brought the death toll in more than a month of fighting to 414 people, including 71 government forces and 299 gunmen, the military said.

Crisis management spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong also confirmed the discovery. “This is wanton killing of individuals. It’s beyond evil,” he said.

The gunmen are believed to be holding dozens of hostages, including a Catholic priest. The military on Tuesday said the gunmen forced some of the hostages to convert and marry some of them for the purpose of using them as sex slaves. The claim could not be independently verified.

Efforts to dislodge the enemy fighters have been slow, with the gunmen said to be equipped with weapons the military said they had stockpiled in Marawi.

The rebels are said to have been pushed in the defensive, hiding in trenches and bombed-out structures such as mosques where they have stationed snipers to slow advancing troops.

No-negotiation policy

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman, on Wednesday emphasized that the government was observing a “no-negotiation policy” amid earlier reports that one of the leaders of the group, Abdullah Maute, was willing to free a Catholic priest in exchange for his parents who were captured separately.

The Philippine government had earlier offered more than $100,000 each for the capture or killing of Abdullah and his brother Omarkhayam Maute and twice that amount for Hapilon.

Hapilon, a senior leader of Abu Sayyaf and one of the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorists, is believed to be holed up in Marawi, although recent unconfirmed intelligence reports suggest he may have fled the area.

In January, he escaped a military strike in his former base in the southern island of Basilan that left him wounded, officials said.

Padilla said rescue efforts led by a civilian member of the Muslim community on Sunday were aimed at saving more trapped civilians in Marawi.

He said this led to the rescue of an elderly man and five others, including a child. The rescue mission also spoke to Abdullah, who reportedly raised the prisoner swap that the government has flatly rejected.

Padilla said it remained crucial that Hapilon be caught “dead or alive.”

“And it is to the interest of our country because he has been wanted for a long time,” he said. “He is also wanted by another country, again dead or alive.

“So our assumption is to just pursue our operations in the best way we can, rescue the remaining trapped residents and maximize the opportunities not only by our offensive but also the opportunities provided by the peace corridors, and at the same time, effect a rescue of the hostages, if at all possible,” he said.

Duterte, 72, a tough-talking native of the southern city of Davao, on Tuesday night revealed for the first time that he had relatives who had joined the militants in Marawi.

Without explanation, he said he knew of the impending attack in advance, contrary to earlier assertions the government had been caught flat-footed by the violence.

“I have cousins who joined the Maute. Because they were there, a cousin of mine died. They went there, a truckload of them,” Duterte said at a dinner to mark Eid al-Fitr in Manila.

He said his presidential guards knew about it, too, and asked him, to which he said he replied, “They are my cousins. Let them be.” He said they may have gone to join the militants “for the sake of adventure or I do not know what.”

The revelation contradicts the military’s statement that it was unaware of the IS links until a few days after the eruption of violence.

Asked to comment on Duterte’s statement, Padilla said he hasn’t “had the opportunity to cross-check from how and where” the president made the statement.

170628-ph-IS-marawi-bottom-620.jpg

A handout photo released by Philippine officials shows a destroyed section of downtown Marawi City after government airplanes pounded the area with bombs in order to dislodge militant extremists who took over a portion of what used to be a vibrant Muslim trading hub. [HO/Zia Alonto Adiong/Marawi City]

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