Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered martial law in the city of Marawi in the southern part of the country after a group of heavily-armed fighters from the Islamic terrorist group called “Maute” sieged the city, killing at least two soldiers and policeman in an ongoing battle.
Maute, which is also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, had found a foothold on the southern island of Mindanao after ISIS tapped militant leader Isnilon Hapilon to create a Southeast Asia branch of the infamous terrorist organization.
Fighting broke out between Philippine governmental forces and the Islamic militants when Duterte sent troops to raid the hideout used by Hapilon, who has been described as “an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher known for his expertise in commando assaults.”
According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, “the whole of Marawi City is blacked out, there is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around.” However, he and the rest of the Duterte administration have maintained that the Philippine military still have total control over the situation in Marawi.
As the leader of the notorious Abu Sayyaf gang, Hapilon has a prominent position on the U.S. Justice Department’s most wanted terrorists list with a $5 million bounty on his head. After getting wounded in an airstrike in January and with Philippine troops bearing down on them, Hapilon joined forces with Maute and received help from about 50 additional gunmen.
Intense photos from the scene show Maute fighters parading through the streets of Marawi while driving stolen police vehicles and flying the ISIS black flag. They freed prisoners from the local jail, occupied the town hall and hospital, and set fire to a Catholic church as part of their rampage. According to Philippine officials, these tactics are meant to distract from efforts to capture Hapilon.