Priest is kidnapped by Islamic State-linked group in the Philippines

02 June 2017

REUTERS

Advancing: members of the Philippine Marine Corps ride in a military vehicle through the streets of Marawi city

Advancing: members of the Philippine Marine Corps ride in a military vehicle through the streets of Marawi city

MILITANTS linked to Islamic State (IS) in the southern Philippines have taken a priest and some of his parishioners hostage as part of a wave of violence and insurrection in the city of Marawi.

Gunmen from the Islamist Maute group swept into the city on the southern island of Mindanao last week, after a botched government raid that failed to capture a terrorist commander, Isnilon Hapilon, who has pledged allegiance to IS.

In retaliation for the attack, dozens of militants set fire to build­ings, raised the black flag of IS, and killed soldiers and civilians. They then stormed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora and abducted a priest, the Revd Teresito Suganob, and several worshippers.

Fr Suganob appeared in a video released by the militants earlier this week, urging the Philippine Presid­ent, Rodrigo Duterte, to withdraw the military from Marawi. Mr Duterte proclaimed martial law across the whole of the Mindanao region in response to the attacks, and has declared that he will be “harsh” towards the terrorists.

Many of the 200,000 people who live in Marawi are believed to have fled the fighting.

In the video, which may have been filmed under duress, Fr Suga­nob said that he was being held with about 200 other hostages, in­­cluding some children.

“We want to live another day, we want to live another month,” he said. Addressing Mr Duterte, he said: “We want to live few years and in your generosity, Mr President, in your heart, we know you can make something [happen].”

The President of the RC Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, the Most Revd Socrates Villegas, condemned the abduction of Fr Suganob: “He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” Archbishop Villegas said. “His capture and that of his com­panions violates every norm of civil­ised conflict.”

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The Archbishop of Cotabato, Cardinal Orlando Que­vedo, has appealed for Muslims, who make up a significant minority of the population in Mindanao, to persuade the Maute militants to set the hostages free. He said: “I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influ­ence the hostage-takers to release the hostages un­­harmed.”

Although an Islamist insurgency based in Mindanao has been waging a campaign against the Philippine authorities for decades, the emerg­ence of IS has galvanised the conflict in recent years.

The Maute group that launched the attack on Marawi is one of several new, smaller armed Islamist organisations that have sprung up and pledged their allegiance to IS.

Mr Duterte was noted while he was the mayor of Davao, the largest city in Mindanao, for his violent crackdowns against drug dealers and criminals. As President, he has sought peace talks with the larger Islamist groups while also launching a new military offensive against the IS-affiliated militants.

On Tuesday, the army’s chief-of-staff, General Eduardo Ano, told the AP news agency that they had now retaken about 70 per cent of Ma­­rawi, although about 100 people — civilians, militants, and soldiers — had died so far.

On the same day, the Christian Conference of Asia, an ecumenical group of Churches, released a state­ment condemning Mr Duterte’s de­­cision to impose martial law, arguing that the curfews, army checkpoints, and other measures would inflame the situation and not deal with the cause of the conflict.

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