Philippine military: City siege was start of extremist plan

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The government says it is close to retaking Marawi from the Islamic State-linked Maute group, which seized parts of the city after a failed attempt by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the militants' so-called emir of Southeast Asia.

"We call on the remaining terrorists to surrender while there is an opportunity", military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said.

Troops have cleared nearly 90 percent of Marawi city, where the gunmen linked to the Islamic State group have been fending off government troops since a botched raid to capture a veteran rebel leader triggered a militant siege, said military spokesman Brig.

The Philippines military on Wednesday said it is analyzing a video purportedly showing a Roman Catholic priest captured by militants loyal to the Islamic State in Marawi City.

The clashes erupted when security forces raided a house to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as IS's leader in the Philippines and who is on the U.S. government's list of most-wanted terrorists.

At least 65 militants and 20 Philippine troops and police have been killed, the military said.

Government forces now control about 70 percent of the southern city, while some insurgents are still hiding here and there.

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Philippine authorities have reached out to parties who may be able to talk with Muslim militants in a bid to secure the freedom of some 200 hostages in a southern city where a week of fighting has killed 129 people, officials said Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south through mid-July after the militants went on a deadly rampage in Marawi last week following an unsuccessful military raid to capture Hapilon.

More than 100 people have died so far in the fighting in Marawi's streets and aerial bombardment by the army and 2,000 people are now trapped in rebel-held areas and unable to leave the city.

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The priest was taken hostage by the Islamist Maute group in the Muslim-dominated Marawi city, where troops have been mounting an offensive against militants.

"We aired this message in the hope of ending this soon and reducing any more loss of lives and property", Padilla said in a statement.

The militants had freed jailed comrades to join the battle and opted to engage in urban warfare because the city had stocks of arms and ample supplies of food.

"For the terrorists, not surrendering will mean their sure death".

Militants' ongoing resistance suggested Hapilon, who has a $5 million Federal Bureau of Investigation bounty on his head, was still in the city, the Philippines military said.

The pro-Daesh Maute group is clinging on to the heart of Marawi City despite a ground assault and days of air strikes, defying expectations of a swift end to the occupation.

"We're merely working closely with civil organization whose objective is to save more lives", the military spokesman said. "Inside, there is a supply of bullets", he said, adding the ammunition was among the stolen items the rebels were using to resist the forces being poured into the area.

The surviving hostages said they had seen one of their companions beheaded in front of them and were warned they would meet the same fate if the government did not meet the group's demands.

The Maute, the Abu Sayyaf and other hardline groups are not interested in negotiating and have in recent years looked to IS to help them.

"They are trapped, they are contained, they are in areas that they will never come up alive unless they surrender", he said.

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