The bodies of five decapitated civilians were recovered from Marawi City today (Wednesday, June 28), amid fears that many more victims will be found.
The five mutilated bodies were among 17 retrieved from the besieged city, and are the first confirmation of reports of beheadings made by escapees.
Other survivors have reported women forced into sex slavery and the forced conversion of Christians.
Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman of the Crisis Management Committee, said these were all victims of the Maute Group. “They are already in advanced stage of decomposition,” he said.
More than 70 government troops and police and about 300 militants have been killed since fighting erupted in the city on May 23.
Fighting has raged in the town since an operation to arrest Hapilon went wrong on May 23. It is believed the Abu Sayyaf commander was in the city on a mission to unite the numerous islamist groups of the Philippines under the black flag of IS.
The strength of the forces that erupted after the failed raid, along with the presence of foreign jihadis, suggests he made some headway toward this aim.
President Duterte promised to destroy the militants in Marawi and said the Philippines was now dealing with “a very dangerous situation” due to young Muslims inspired by the “mass insanity” of Islamic State.
“All they do is just to kill and destroy, and killing in a most brutal way,” he said at an event where he received hundreds of sniper and assault rifles donated by the Chinese government to help the military campaign.
“They enjoy decapitating people in front of cameras. They have to be dealt with, with the same ferocity but not the brutality,” he said.
Military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera said the bodies were found in two groups, of 12 and five.
Local officials had previously estimated that about a hundred bodies of civilians were in the combat zone, which couldn’t be retrieved because of the risk of sniper fire.
In a news briefing in Malacañang, military spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said that the terrorists were known to have executed Christians during the “earlier days” of the clashes.
“In the earlier days of the fighting, there was sufficient proof to believe that there were executions conducted from inside Marawi regarding a number of Christians that were caught,” he said.
The battle entered its 36th day today, with intense gunfights and aerial bombing of militant-controlled areas of the city.