Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law Tuesday on the southern island of Mindanao as security forces battled heavily armed militants linked to the Islamic State in a provincial capital.
Duterte issued the declaration in Moscow, where he was on an official visit.
Earlier Tuesday, Philippine forces clashed with militants in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur Province on Mindanao, during a government attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of an Islamic State branch in Southeast Asia who pledged allegiance to the terrorist group in 2014.
At least two soldiers and one police officer have been killed and a dozen other soldiers wounded in the fighting, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, according to ABS-CBN News. He described the militants as members of the Maute group, a radical Islamist organization also known as the Islamic State of Lanao. It is said to be made up of former members of a long-standing Muslim separatist group on Mindanao and some foreign fighters.
Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, the armed forces chief of staff, said nearly 50 gunmen entered Marawi City, which has a population of about 200,000, and burned houses and other buildings to sow confusion during the fighting, the Associated Press reported.
One group of fighters took up positions near a hospital, where they raised a black Islamic State-style flag, while others battled troops and police near a provincial jail, AP said.
“The whole of Marawi City is blacked out,” Lorenzana said. “There is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around,” so the Philippine troops are holding their positions. He said reinforcements would arrive Wednesday.
Among the buildings torched by the militants were a church, the city jail, a school, a college and a number of homes, Lorenzana said.
Duterte decided to cut short his visit to Moscow, where he had been scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“The president feels he is needed in Manila ASAP,” Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in Moscow that martial law would be in effect on the entire island of Mindanao for 60 days.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · William Branigin