The Philippines’ military says a much larger number of civilians may have been killed by Daesh terrorists in the southern town of Marawi than can be confirmed at this moment.
Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said on Wednesday that authorities could independently confirm the death of only 27 people in Marawi but that people who had escaped the fighting said they had witnessed a “significant number” of deaths.
“The number you have right now is 27; [it] may increase significantly once we are able to validate all this information,” Padilla told a news conference, apparently referring to the witness accounts. “There have been a significant number that have been seen but again, we cannot include many of these.”
Philippine troops help rescued residents in Marawi, June 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Padilla said the cause of those deaths was the “atrocities committed by the terrorists,” who started rampaging through Marawi last month but soon faced a government offensive that has partially contained them.
He said the Daesh terrorists have been forcing residents to loot homes, take up arms, or act as sex slaves.
He argued that the battle was “sensitive” since military forces had to protect those civilians who were still trapped in the town or had been taken hostage and that troops needed more time to flush out the gunmen and secure the city.
An estimated 500 to 1,000 civilians are trapped in the city, some of them being used as human shields.
Padilla also said that “there are many traps so we have to clear buildings slowly.”
A Philippine armored vehicle crosses a street after engaging militants in Marawi, June 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The military offensive against the Daesh forces has been underway for 36 days in the town, with intense gunfights and bombing in the urban terrain.
President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that from the beginning of the battle, he had been prepared for a long fight with the local Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Daesh.
He said the group seemed to have access to a “limitless supply” of weapons. “They were able to stockpile their arms.”
The militants have reportedly said they would release their hostages in Marawi if the government accepted to release some of the militants it has been holding in custody. The government, however, rejected an exchange of captives, saying it would “not negotiate with terrorists.”