Army helicopters fired rockets at Islamist militants in a southern Philippine city yesterday, as fears grew for up to 2 000 people unable to escape a week of relentless fighting that has left women and children dead.
President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines shortly after the fighting erupted, warning that the gunmen were involved in an effort by the Islamic State group to set up a local caliphate.
But street-to-street battles and a military bombing campaign have failed to end the crisis in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly Catholic nation, and authorities expressed alarm about those trapped inside the militants’ areas.
“They are texting us and calling us for help,” provincial crisis management committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong said, referring to the 2 000 people his office had recorded being unable to leave.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is trying to help those trapped, said people were dying from the extreme conditions and stray bullets.
Authorities said the gunmen had already murdered at least 19 civilians, while 17 members of the security forces had died in the clashes and 61 militants were killed.
Eight bodies were found on Sunday morning dumped off a bridge on the outskirts of Marawi, which is normally a bustling city of 200 000 people known as a centre of Islamic culture and education. -AFP