COTABATO CITY - A Maranao housewife said she had "eye-to-eye" contact with at least three of the terrorists who attacked Marawi City as she and her children fled on foot to the next town in Lanao del Sur.
"They were not from Marawi. They looked like Arabs, handsome, fair-skinned, pointed nose. But they did not talk. They just gave us a sharp look and signaled us to move on," said Amalia Kasim, 45, a housewife and resident of Luksadatu, Barangay Basak Malutlut, in Marawi City.
Kasim said she was returning home from the market at about 2:30 pm on Tuesday and was nearing her house when fighting broke out between government forces and the terrorists.
She said her husband, Elias, was not home when the fighting started.
As her neighbours were fleeing, she decided to leave, too.
Flight to Saguiaran
Carrying valuables and her three children, aged 5, 10 and 12, she headed for Saguiaran town, just outside the city.
"I could not find my husband, his cell phone was out of reach. We proceeded anyway together with our neighbours," she said, adding she had experienced evacuation in the past but "this is the most horrifying."
"I cried; my children cried, too, looking for their father. I thought he was already dead but I saw him on Thursday morning in Saguiaran driving our old car," she said.
Elias, in a separate interview, said he went to a police outpost at 4 p.m. on Tuesday to report that his family was missing.
"When I was in the detachment, gunfire erupted anew so I ducked and took cover. The police told me to stay put," he said.
"I witnessed the firefight near the police outpost. The police kept firing their guns as I was on the ground but I heard the Maute yelling 'Allahu akbar (God is great),'" Elias recalled.
Like New Year's Eve
Overnight on Tuesday and the whole day on Wednesday, "I was in the police outpost, most of the time flat on the ground as the fighting continued … It was like New Year's Eve, nonstop firing of guns," he said.
When soldiers entered the city, he said he braved the streets and drove toward Saguiaran and was reunited with his family.
The couple and their children are now in a relative's home in Cotabato City. They receive food assistance from the government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.