Philippine Troops Recover Remains of 6 Believed Executed by Militants

Jeoffrey Maitem
Marawi, Philippines
170713-PH-bodies-620.jpg A photograph released by the Philippine military shows skeletal remains of civilians believed to have been executed by Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, July 13, 2017.
Handout/Armed Forces of the Philippines

Philippine security forces have recovered the remains of six people believed executed by militants in the southern city of Marawi, confirming the authenticity of an earlier video showing the gunmen killing their captives, officials said Thursday.

Soldiers stumbled on the grisly find Wednesday in an abandoned area of the city. The skeletal remains were still clad in orange clothes, officials said.

The remains are believed to be that of six people seized by the gunmen during the early days of the crisis, which began on May 23. The militants had earlier circulated a video showing them killing several captives in an undisclosed area believed to be somewhere in the city.

A military official who requested anonymity said the skeletal remains appear to confirm the executions had taken place.

With the discovery of the six remains, the official death toll from almost two months of fighting has risen to 45 civilians, 92 soldiers and 389 gunmen. The government fatalities included two soldiers who were killed by an errant airstrike Wednesday.

“The brutal execution is proof of their un-Islamic ways. These terrorists do not respect anyone or anything,” regional military chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said.

Holding extremists accountable

Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, the military commander in Marawi, vowed that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Maute militants would be punished.

“Our soldiers will do everything in their power to bring these terrorists to justice,” he said. “We owe this to the victims. We owe this to our people.”

Bautista said the gunmen would be held accountable for the destruction of Marawi, the only Islamic city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, located on the main southern island of Mindanao.

Fighting erupted in Marawi when police attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, ASG leader and the acknowledged emir of the Islamic State (IS) in the country. But Hapilon’s group was backed by gunmen belonging to the Maute group and several fighters from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire southern region under military rule and accepted American and Australian intelligence help. While admitting that troops had been taken by surprise by the rebel firepower, Duterte nonetheless said this week that he believed the fighting could be finished in 15 days.

Military officials on Thursday expressed fears, after interviewing civilians who had managed to escape from battle zone recently, that more civilians could have been killed by the gunmen “for defying their orders to loot or shoot at soldiers.”

But identifying dead civilians could take time because the victims are reduced to skeletal remains, said Zia Alonto Adiong, provincial crisis management spokesman.

Locating the victims’ next-of-kin was also difficult, because they may be dead or are still trapped, he said.

Confirming death of Vietnamese sailor

Meanwhile, the Philippine military on Thursday confirmed the death of a Vietnamese sailor who was held captive by ASG.

Tran Viet Van’s body was found Saturday after troops clashed with the ASG in the southern island-province of Sulu, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said without providing details.

Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, broke the news about the sailor’s death. It quoted Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry but said it was not clear whether Van was killed by ASG or by military forces during the chaos of the raid.

“Two things could have happened that led to his death,” Sobejana said. “He may have been hit during the encounter or he may have been shot by the rebels as he tried to escape while taking advantage of the chaos.”

He said Saturday’s clash was intense, leading to the deaths of four ASG gunmen and a soldier and the wounding of 15 government troops.

Van was one of six sailors who were taken hostage by ASG in February while aboard the Giang Hai, a vessel that was shipping cement from Indonesia to the Philippines. The gunmen shot and killed another hostage and four are thought to remain in captivity.

Van’s body was found just a week after Filipino authorities discovered the decapitated bodies of Hoang Van Hai and Hoang Trung Thong on Basilan, another island in the southern Philippines.

Hai, Thong, and four other Vietnamese crew members of the cargo ship MV Royal 16 were taken hostage by ASG in November.

Filipino troops rescued a third crewman, Hoang Vo, last month, but three others remain in captivity. The Vietnamese embassy in Manila could not be reached for comment.

Felipe Villamor in Manila and Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.


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