Fears are growing for residents trapped in the besieged Philippines city of Marawi following reports that those fleeing fighting between IS-aligned militants and government forces saw as many 100 dead bodies.
Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, has been under siege for weeks following a shock invasion by Islamic militants loyal to Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon in May.
“They have told us that estimated number of dead bodies scattered around the encounter area is more (or) less a hundred,” Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong said, stressing the reports hadn’t been independently verified.
The number “needs to be verified first since retrieval operations have no access to these areas where (an) intense firefight is taking place.” These are “personal accounts of witnesses, trapped residents who managed to walk to safety crossing the bridge,” he said.
It was not clear from the accounts whether the bodies were those of civilians or militants killed in clashes as government troops fight to regain control of the last neighborhoods still under Abu Sayyaf control and Maute control.
The battle to eradicate hundreds of IS-affiliated militants, mostly from the locally-based Maute group but affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf Group of militants has shown little sign of resolution as the third week of fighting wears on.
Task Force Marawi spokesperson Jo-Ar Herrera told CNN via text message that 26 civilians had been killed by the Maute militants, although he did not elaborate on how many may have died in government bombardments of Maute positions.
Herrera said that 207 attackers has been killed so far, and 58 government troops had died. He added that 1,619 civilians had been rescued.
Only a handful of residents of the city’s estimated 200,000 population remain, and large areas of Marawi, especially the downtown commercial district, are “devastated” by the government bombardments.