Philippines official: Terror suspect still in besieged city

Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into the southern Philippine city Thursday as gunfire and explos

Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into the southern Philippine city Thursday as gunfire and explos

Philippine security forces are battling Muslim militants who have laid siege to a city in the volatile southern region of Mindanao. Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into t.

The turmoil was the final straw for President Rodrigo Duterte, who on Tuesday delivered on his longstanding threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country's second-largest island, to stop the spread of radical Islam.

Philippine troops aboard helicopters and in armoured tanks battled Islamist militants inside a southern city on Thursday, as reports emerged of the gunmen murdering civilians.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi, including Indonesians and Malaysians.

"If I think you should die, you will die".

Authorities have not reported any civilian casualties but the GMA television network showed images of nine people who had apparently been shot dead.

At least 46 people - 15 security forces and 31 rebels - have been killed and religious leaders say militants were using Christians taken hostage during the fighting as human shields.

But soldiers have been going house-to-house to clear the city of militants.

Thousands of people have fled the city, said Mary Jo Henry, an emergency response official. "I'm just praying that the bullets will not find their way to my house and hit us".

He also advised the public that the least we can do as law-abiding citizens is to repose our trust in the wisdom and determination of President Duterte to excise this evil from our land.

Duterte threatened harsh measures to prevent extremists taking a hold in Mindanao and said martial law would remain in place for as long as it took to restore order. Marawi has a population of around 200,000.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern third of the nation and warned he will enforce it harshly.

In the city where Duterte was mayor for 22 years, and enjoys a cult-like following, residents were supportive of martial law.

He said the Maute group has pledged allegiance to the ISIS and now aims to transform Mindanao into an Islamic state. He is at the nexus of several militant groups that are trying to merge into a more powerful force.

Besides the Abu Sayyaf, another, smaller militant group - the Maute - is heavily involved in the Marawi siege. Born in 1966, the Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher with an engineering degree from the University of the Philippines was once commander of the Moro National Liberation Front, an Islamic separatist group.

"We have not seen any concrete evidence of material support from IS", military spokesman Brig.

Eighteen rebels were killed on Thursday, the army said. But he added that the smaller groups "are working to really get that recognition and funds, of course". Hapilon's whereabouts were not clear, but there was no indication he was captured in the raid.

The army raided what it believed to be his hideout on Tuesday night in Marawi, but the operation quickly went wrong. Militants called in reinforcements and quickly overpowered the authorities. Once again, Hapilon escaped.

The man at the center of the Marawi violence is Isnilon Hapilon. Air force helicopters swooped overhead.

Although much of the city is sealed off, disturbing details were trickling out.

Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena said the militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a Catholic priest, 10 worshippers and three church workers.

Calida said the Maute group and Islamic State wanted to create an "ISIS province" in Mindanao and the government was not the only target of their aggression.

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