Muslim Militants in South ‘Will Regroup’: Philippine President

Froilan Gallardo, Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel Umel
Marawi, Philippines
171011_marawi_620.jpg Filipino humanitarian volunteers and health workers prepare to bury unclaimed bodies retrieved from the rubble of war-torn Marawi city, Oct. 5, 2017.
Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews

As Philippine government forces kept battling to retake southern Marawi city from Islamic State-backed fighters, President Rodrigo Duterte warned the military on Wednesday to brace for more militant attacks in the country.

While Duterte promised there would be “no letup until the last terrorist is taken out,” he asked troops to be patient because the fight was expected to spillover in other cities in the south.

“This terrorism inspired by the ISIS will not go in about seven to 10 years,” Duterte told troops in the town of Tartaro, north of Manila, as he inaugurated a housing project for them. He used another acronym to refer to Islamic State (IS).

“They will not disappear. They will regroup anywhere and everywhere,” he said.

His office had received intelligence that the gunmen were planning similar strikes in several cities in the south, including Zamboanga and Isabela, Duterte said, without elaborating.

“So just remember that terrorism is a deadly movement to confront us and our children,” the president said. “Your children will inherit the problem. It will reach your retirement age. So just be prepared for that.”

Duterte said the gunmen’s strategy was to take over a town or city and then fortify their defenses against the military’s first responders.

This was what happened in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of more than 200,000 that was emptied after the gunmen attacked it on May 23, burning businesses and homes and killing Christians.

Nearly five months later, the gunmen still control a portion of the city, largely because they managed to bring guns and ammunition and dug trenches and tunnels “like the Vietcong,” Duterte said, referring to Vietnamese guerrillas who fought against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces in the 1960s and 70s.

24 bodies found

On Wednesday, the military said it had recovered 24 decomposing remains of suspected enemy fighters in an abandoned building in Marawi.

Military task force commander Col. Romeo Brawner said the cadavers belonged to a rebel unit that may have perished in airstrikes launched by the military.

“DNA tests will be performed and the bodies will be buried right away,” Brawner said, adding that the building where the bodies were found was used as a “defensive position” by gunmen.

However, there appeared to be no sign that the 24 were civilians or hostages, even though the military had said earlier that some hostages were forced to wear rebel clothes and carry firearms, he said.

An assortment of firearms, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers and assault rifles, were recovered from the site where the bodies were found.

It is believed that the rebels are still holding hostage 23 women, 3 men and 16 children as hostages, the military said.

More than a thousand combatants and civilians have been killed in the violence, the toughest test so far faced by President Duterte’s young government.

“We are very close in liberating the entire city,” Brawner said.

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.


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