Philippines says foreigners among IS-linked gunmen in south

Philippines security forces continue to battle the Abu Sayyaf group which has kidnapped hundreds since the early 1990s to extract ransomsMore

Islamist militants locked in street-to-street battles with security forces in a southern Philippine city have killed 19 civilians, the military said Sunday, bringing the official death toll from almost a week of fighting to at least 85.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said on Saturday that surgical air strikes was the best way to do this as the terrorists were hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities.

A top Philippine official says foreign fighters are among the militants linked to the Islamic State group who have laid siege to the southern city of Marawi. It was not immediately clear whether civilians were among the dead.

"We will make this their cemetery", he said.

Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, pledged allegiance to IS in 2014.

MalacaƱang on Saturday, May 27, defended President Rodrigo Duterte from criticism at home and overseas over his latest rape joke, this time made as he rallied troops to win the war against terrorists in Mindanao under military rule.

Malaysian lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad (pic) could soon be the leader of the Islamic State's (IS) offshoot in the southern Philippines Marawi City.

"They had notified local authorities about their activities, including Philippine police and military authorities by submitting an official letter from the AbuBakr As-Siddiq Mosque", he said.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that "contamination by ISIS" loomed in the country's future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

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She also said that the country has a current account surplus since 2003, while its net foreign direct investments at USD7.933 billion in 2016, which is higher by 41 percent year-on-year.

"Duterte's pro-rape comments only confirm some of the worst fears of human rights activists that the Duterte government will not just turn a blind eye to possible military abuses in Mindanao, but may actively encourage them", Kine said.

He has been identified as a chief recruiter by the militants who trained and sent Malaysians to fight in Syria and Iraq.

On the possibility that Dr Mahmud might become the leader of the IS cell in southern Philippines, DCP Ayob said he suspected that was Dr Mahmud's ultimate goal.

In a sign of the confusion over events inside the city, a local police chief told the AP on Friday that he was fine - two days after Duterte told journalists the police chief had been beheaded by militants. Hapilon is on Washington's list of most-wanted terrorists and has a $5 million bounty on his head.

In urging Senate and House leaders to act on the matter, Gatchalian invoked a Supreme Court admonition that "the power to declare martial law poses the most severe threat to civil liberties...a strong medicine, which should not be resorted to lightly". Mr Hapilon escaped, and the Islamist forces took over much of the city, setting fire to a cathedral and a hospital and reportedly taking hostages, including a Roman Catholic priest.

Mahmud, who is also known as Abu Handzalah, led fellow militants to rescue Hapilon in the Marawi attack, the sources say.

Its activities are a source of concern for Mindanao native Duterte, who is familiar with separatist unrest but alarmed by the presence of radicals inspired by Islamic State's radical agenda. "You can arrest any person, search any house without warrant", said Duterte, who has been criticized for the deaths of thousands of people in a crackdown on illegal drugs.

Duterte warned he may expand martial law nationwide, an unnerving development for many in the Philippines who lived through the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Still, the attacks posed a test for authorities in the Philippines and in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, as they confront like-minded extremists who support the creation of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

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