"Daesh-linked foreign fighters involved in battle for Philippine city"

The government announces foreigners are participating in the fighting as death toll rises to 46. Army deploys attack helicopters and special forces to drive the rebels out.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao, the country's second-largest island, in response to the siege.

Foreigners are among Daesh-linked fighters battling security forces in a southern Philippine city, the government said on Friday as the reported death toll from four days of clashes climbed to 46.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern region of Mindanao on Tuesday, hours after militants allied with Daesh rampaged through Marawi City in response to a raid on one of their safe houses.

TRT World speaks to Noel Tarrazona in Marawi.

"What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign fighters," Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government's chief lawyer, told reporters in the southern city of Davao.

He said Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans and "other foreign jihadists" were fighting in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly-Catholic Philippines with about 200,000 residents.

Widespread carnage

Philippine military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed as killed in the fighting. The battle to take back the city has involved the military bombing buildings where the militants have been hiding.

At least two civilians were killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday. The military was investigating reports about nine people murdered at a checkpoint the militants had set up, authorities said.

A tricky battle

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because the militants were moving nimbly through homes, had planted bombs in the streets, and were holding hostages.

They said militants had also occupied higher ground in the city, enabling them to slow down or stop assaults from the security forces.

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of Daesh, was hiding.

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world's most dangerous terrorists and offers a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

TRTWorld and agencies