Terrorists on the rampage in the Philippines

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MINDANAO ISLAND, Philippines — Terrorists glorifying the Islamic State (IS) have killed at least 174 people including Christians in attacks on Marawi, Philippines, since May 23, the Fides Catholic news agency reported June 1.

An early morning attack today (June 2) that killed 36 at Manila World Resort casino in northern Philippines is not considered a terrorist attack, Philippine police told the Associated Press. But a terrorism watch group revealed communications indicating the attack was the work of “lone wolf soldiers” acting as terrorists.

At least 17 Christians including two Catholic priests are among perhaps 200 hostages held by Maute terrorists as recently as June 1 in the majority Muslim city of Marawi, Fides News said. An official state of emergency and martial law declared by President Rodrigo Duterte remain in effect on the entire southern island of Mindanao, comprising Marawi.

“They are violent extremists; we do not know what they have in mind,” Fides News quoted Catholic Bishop Edwin de la Pena, who heads the Territorial Prelature of Marawi. “We are in God’s hands.”

Included in the death toll of 174, that Fides described as an official count, are at least nine Christians who were stopped, tied and then killed at the gates of the city when the conflict spiked May 23, Fides said. Maute terrorists shot eight Christians May 23 for refusing to recite the Muslim creed, Morning Star News reported; but it was not clear whether those eight were among the nine Christians noted in the Fides report. Between 100,000 and 200,000 people have fled the city, according to various news reports.

The terrorists killed dozens of civilians and beheaded a police chief, Morning Star said, with 89 Islamist militants, 21 security force personnel and 20 soldiers dying in the conflict. Terrorists burned a Catholic cathedral and three buildings of Dansalan College, a United Church of Christ school, before raising the black IS flag in Marawi.

The battle is part of a spiritual warfare, Assembly of God church elder Teddy Sugpatan told Morning Star News. Sugpatan cited Ephesians 6:12 and exhorted Christians to remain steadfast against “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil,” Morning Star reported June 1.

Although the Philippine government has retaken most of Marawi, as many as 100 terrorists are believed to be among those holed up in homes with hostages that include women and children. Maute terrorists are recruiting children as young as 4 and teaching them to fight, Al Jazeera news reported May 31, citing among the terrorists an additional jihad group known as Abu Sayyaf.

In a video released by terrorists May 30, abducted priest and vicar-general Teresito “Chito” Suganob appealed to the government to consider the safety of the hostages and stop bombing the city, Morning Star reported. Police dismissed the video as propaganda.

In today’s attack — considered unrelated to terrorism — at Manila World Resort, a man swarmed the casino and poured gasoline on tables to start a large fire, creating a cloud of smoke that trapped victims inside. The attacker carried an assault rifle but did not fire the weapon, many news agencies reported.

The SITE Intelligence Group uncovered a message on pro-IS Telegram chat sites, the AP reported, that read “The lone wolf soldiers of Khilafah attack the heart of Kufar the city of Manila in Resort World.” Khilafah refers to an IS caliphate; Kufar is considered a derogatory term for Christians and other non-Muslims, the AP said.

Described as a tall, white European man, the attacker stole $2 million worth of casino chips before breaking into an adjacent hotel room and setting himself on fire on a bed, where he died, the AP reported.

The latest terrorist attacks occurred after Philippine soldiers raided the hideout of suspected Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Morning Star said. The U.S. State Department has offered a $5 million award for Hapilon’s capture.

Maute is one of the newest terrorist groups in the Philippines. Founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, the group is known locally as the Islamic State and began with as few as 100 members, Morning Star reported.

Abu Sayyaf, founded in 1991, had about 400 members as recently as 2016, BBC News reported. The group is comprised of several factions who have pledged allegiance to IS and work cooperatively, but sometimes fight among themselves, BBC said.

— by Diana Chandler | BP

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