Headless bodies of 5 civilians found in Marawi

PHOTO: AFP

The decapitated bodies of five civilians had been found in Marawi, the military said on Wednesday, warning the number of residents killed in "atrocities" by terrorists holed up in the city could rise sharply as government troops retake more ground.

The discovery of the five victims among 17 bodies retrieved would be the first evidence that civilians trapped in besieged Marawi have been decapitated during the five-week stand by Maute group and Abu Sayyaf terrorists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Iraq and Syria, as some who have escaped the city have previously reported.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson of the Army's 1st Infantry Division and the Joint Task Force Ranao, told reporters the bodies were found on Wednesday morning by police, soldiers and civilian volunteers in Gadungan village, which had been cleared of terrorists.

'Killed in cold blood'

Herrera said the bodies were found in two different locations in the village.

"The recovered [bodies] are believed to be those of civilians who were helplessly murdered by the Maute-Abu Sayyaf terrorists," he said.

"This is a manifestation of the Maute's brutality. [They] killed these innocent civilians in cold blood," he added.

Reuters reported that Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, commander of the 4th Civil Relations Group of the military's Western Mindanao Command, gave the information about the decapitated bodies in a text message to reporters.

Uncertain

He did not respond immediately to requests for more details.

A civilian rescue worker, Abdul Azis Lomondot, told Reuters earlier that body parts were found on Wednesday, but there was "no proof of beheading."

Herrera was uncertain about the beheadings.

"We are not sure if they were beheaded because the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition," he said.

"The retrieval operations are concentrated in some areas previously held by the Maute," he added.

Reuters reported that videos have appeared this month on the website of the IS group's Amaq news agency and its social media channels of hostages in Marawi pleading for their lives, saying they would be beheaded if airstrikes were not stopped.

Clips have also appeared of people on their knees, shot in the head from behind.

Reuters said it was unable to confirm the authenticity of the reports.

More civilians killed likely

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said it was likely that many civilians had been killed and the death toll-

The number of civilians killed "may increase significantly once we are able to validate all this information," Padilla told reporters in Malacañang, referring to video recovered.

The video showed a "significant number" of civilians, he said.

500 still trapped

"But again, we could not include many of this because we have not validated or authenticated many of this information yet. Until such time, we will remain with those numbers," he said.

As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the record stood at 299 terrorists and 71 soldiers and police killed in the fighting.

Padilla said local officials estimated about 500 residents trapped in the conflict zone in Marawi.

He said the military was trying to rescue the trapped civilians and was not negotiating with the terrorists for the release of hostages.

The terrorists could kill the hostages whether there are talks for their release or not, he added.

Padilla said the military was pressing the offensive, hoping the pressure would force the terrorists to release their captives.

Hostages rescued

In Marawi, Herrera said government troops had rescued nine hostages who had been held by the terrorists for 34 days.

He identified them as Ariel Anaw, Ronie Albacete, Lando Albacete, Dilbert Macatulag, Michael Ongos, Mario Manggubat, Jimboy Guinsayao, Bryan Calipay and Algin Generalao.

Herrera did not say when the nine men were rescued, but said they were given immediate medical attention.

The fighting entered its 36th day on Wednesday, with intense gunfights and bombing in the heart of the city and black-clad fighters seen from afar running between buildings as explosions thundered.

Marawi is the only city in the Christian-majority Philippines that the government has decreed to be "Islamic" because of its large population of Muslims.

The terrorists' hold on it, while incurring the full force of a military for years trained by its US counterpart, has much of Mindanao on edge, concerned that IS influence may run deeper than thought.

Cross-border network

Those fears are being felt also in Malaysia and Indonesia, whose nationals are among the Maute terrorists fighting in Marawi, suggesting the group may have built a cross-border network that has gone largely undetected.

President Duterte on Tuesday said that from the outset, he was prepared for a long fight with a well-armed Maute motivated only by murder and destruction.

"It seems to be limitless supply. They were able to stockpile their arms," he said.

"Some of those who travelled to the Middle East got contaminated, brought the ideology back home and promised to declare war against humanity," he said.

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