MARAWI—Islamist militants locked in street-to-street battles with security forces in Marawi City have killed 27 civilians, the military said Sunday, bringing the official death toll from nearly a week of fighting to at least 103.
Military officials said the death toll after five days of fighting had topped 100, including 61 fighters from the terrorist Maute Group and 15 soldiers and policemen.
The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on Tuesday across the entire island of Mindanao to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat of militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Authorities said the militants had killed 27 civilians in Marawi, a mostly Muslim-populated city of 200,000 people. These included three women and a child who were found dead near a university.
“These are civilians, women. These terrorists are anti-people. We found their bodies while conducting rescue operations [on Saturday],” regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said.
An AFP photographer saw another eight bodies by a road in the outskirts of Marawi on Sunday, with local residents identifying them as employees of a rice mill and a medical college.
Herrera said the military had yet to investigate the reported deaths.
The violence began when dozens of gunmen went on a rampage throughout Marawi after security forces attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as the local leader of IS.
The gunmen planted black IS flags, took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage from a church, and set fire to buildings.
Thirteen soldiers, two policemen and 51 militants have died in the fighting, according to authorities. This brings the combined official death toll to at least 85.
Most of the city’s residents have fled because of the fighting, which has seen the military heavily bomb residential areas where the militants were believed to be hiding.
The military announced on Saturday, the start of the Holy month of Ramadan, that it would intensify the bombing campaign.
“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive. Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city and to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”
Duterte and military chiefs have said most of the militants belong to the local Maute group, which they estimate has about 260 armed followers and has declared allegiance to IS.
But Duterte has said local criminals are backing the Maute in Marawi.
Padilla said the bodies of civilians found validated reports of atrocities committed by the Maute Group terrorists.
Earlier, reports said Maute bandits stopped a truck-load of fleeing civilians, who were told to disembark. They were then tied up and executed.
Padilla said 42 bodies of bandits were recovered from the site of the fighting, while 19 others were confirmed killed based on eyewitness accounts.
Fatalities from the government side climbed to 15, 11 of whom were soldiers, and four were policemen, including an officer. Thirty nine soldiers were also wounded.
Padilla said troops took 28 high-powered firearms, including machine guns from the slain bandits during the two days of continued military hunt against the Maute group.
He said the military was still clearing pockets of resistance in the city while aiding residents trapped by the fighting.
“We have successfully rescued and assisted 124 trapped civlian residents since the start of the operations,” Padilla said.
Air strikes and artillery fire continue to pound areas where Maute members are holed up.
“Our forces are working overtime to hasten the restoration of the rule of law and Marawi’s return to normalcy. We can only do this if we have the full cooperation of our citizens in these affected areas,” Padilla said.
“We count on everyone to unite as one nation and do their patriotic duty for the restoration of peace in our country,” Padilla said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command has earlier projected that Marawi would be retaken in two or three days, but fighting entered its fifth day Sunday.
On Sunday morning, unidentified gunmen dumped the bodies of eight men into a ravine along the national highway in Barangay Matampay in Marawi City, less than a kilometer from a checkpoint.
Police said they heard a burst of gunfire at 2 a.m.
One of the bodies bore a tagged with an Arabic word “Monafik” or hypocrite.
Police Officer 3 Jamail Mangadang said the victims were not from Marawi City and were probably from Iligan City. The men were all tied up and bore gunshot wounds to the head.
Also on Sunday, a hospital official dispelled reports that Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC) in Marawi was taken over by the Maute Group.
Dr. Amer Saber said the report that the medical facility was overrun by members of the Maute Group was not true and appealed to media outlets to verify any information before airing or publishing it.
Saber, however, confirmed that a team of Maute fighters went to the hospital and brought an injured comrade at the start of fighting Tuesday.
He said two armed insurgents entered the facility and asked if they could bring in a patient for treatment.
Their companions, four or five of them and who were also armed, stayed outside the hospital gate and kept watch.
“They were very courteous and even greeted us with ‘Assalam Alaikum’ before asking us if they can bring in their patient,” Saber said.
The patient did not survive since he was already in critical condition when he was admitted.
At about the same time, a police car arrived at the hospital. One of the police officers aboard the vehicle was Senior Insp. Freddie Solar, the intelligence unit chief of the Marawi City Police.
Saber said Solar brought his wife to APMC as she was suffering from appendicitis.
Footage from the hospital’s CCTV camera showed the policemen were taken hostage by the Maute fighters outside the APMC gate.
Of the police officers who were held at gunpoint, only Solar was shot. He was then brought inside the hospital but died shortly due to blood loss, Saber said.
He said the Maute fighters left the hospital early Wednesday morning.
Saber said the APMC is ready for any emergencies and they are expecting more patients as the military conducts clearing operations.
The Amai Pakpak Medical Center is a government-run 438-bed capacity hospital, with about 700 staff, 108 of them doctors with various specializations and 300-plus nurses.