SIS in Southeast Asia: Philippines Battles Growing Threat
Albanian Daily News
Published May 29, 2017
An ISIS fighter erects the flag of the so-called Islamic State atop a school near a mosque in Marawi, southern Philippines on May 24, 2017.

The black flag of ISIS has been raised in the Philippines.

At least 103 people have died in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao in less than a week as fighters affiliated with the so-called Islamic State engaged in violent clashes with government forces, and martial law was declared over the entire island.

Local resident Chico Usman said the militants had entered the predominantly Muslim city of some 200,000 suddenly, on the afternoon of May 24, wearing masks and carrying assault rifles. "Everybody was shocked and ran into their houses," he said, adding they could hear gunfire and fighting until the following morning.

Black ISIS flags emblazoned in white with the words "There is no god but God" were flying from "every corner in the city," said Usman, who spoke to CNN from near Saguiaran, a town outside Marawi, where thousands of fleeing residents had taken temporary shelter.

Photos showed long queues of cars piled with people and belongings, as tanks and armored troop vehicles headed in the opposite direction. 

Clashes between government forces and militants had claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 11 military and four policemen, as of Sunday afternoon, according to a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The AFP confirmed 61 militants had also been killed.

In a separate incident, eight other people -- thought to be fleeing the city -- were found dead in a ravine. Witnesses said the victims were asked to recite Muslim prayers, according to CNN Philippines. Those who failed were taken by the armed men. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country but Mindanao has a significant Muslim population.

The latest violence flared up on May 23, after the military launched an operation targeting Isnilon Hapilon, a Filipino militant leader, who was last year designated ISIS emir for Southeast Asia. 

Surrounded and fearing capture, Hapilon is thought to have issued an emergency call for reinforcements from members of the Maute group, a local Islamist militant organization that's pledged allegiance to ISIS, who poured into Marawi by the hundreds, setting fire to buildings, taking hostages and entering into running street-battles with government forces as they came.

While Islamist and criminal groups have been active in the lawless tri-border area between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia for years, such an audacious and aggressive attack on government troops by fighters loyal to ISIS has shocked many observers -- and increased fears the group is succeeding in extending its influence into Southeast Asia.

(Source: CNN)

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