19 civilians killed in Marawi siege – military

MARAWI CITY, Philippines – Islamist militants locked in street-to-street battles with security forces in Marawi City have killed 19 civilians, the military said on Sunday, May 28, bringing the official death toll from nearly a week of fighting to at least 85.

The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat of militants linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group. 

Authorities said the militants had killed 19 civilians in Marawi City, a mostly Muslim-populated city of 200,000 people. These included 3 women and a child who were found dead near a university. (LOOK: Marawi: Images from a ghost town)

"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 told Agence France-Presse.

Another 8 bodies were found by a road in the outskirts of the city 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 after security forces attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as the local leader of ISIS. (WATCH: In Marawi, the exodus continues)

The gunmen planted black ISIS 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 Brigadier-General 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 ISIS.

But Duterte has said local criminals are backing the Maute group in Marawi. – Rappler.com