Philippines says militants shot dead at least 16 civilians

Police special forces prepare to assault the hide-out of militants near the city hall in Marawi

Police special forces prepare to assault the hide-out of militants near the city hall in Marawi

Displaced Marawi city residents rest on tarpaulin and corrugated boxes at an evacuation center in Saguiaran township, near the besieged city of Marawi, Lanao del Sur province Sunday, May 28, 2017 in southern Philippines.

The eight dead men, a lot of them shot in the head and some with hands tied behind their backs, were labourers who were stopped by Islamic State-linked militants on the outskirts of Marawi City while trying to flee clashes, according to police.

Authorities said the militants had killed 19 civilians in Marawi, a mostly Muslim-populated city of 200,000 people. Around 20 civilian casualties, including three women and one child, have been reported so far.

The prelate urged the government to remove the causes of terrorism such as "poverty and injustice through just and accountable governance focused exclusively on the common good" and called on the people to be "be vigilant". "We found their bodies while conducting rescue operations (on Saturday)", regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said.

An AFP photographer saw another eight bodies by a road in the outskirts of Marawi on Sunday, with local residents identifying them as employees of a rice mill and a medical college.

"This development validates a series of reports of atrocities committed by the militants earlier", said military spokesman, Restituto Padilla.

The violence erupted in response to a failed attempt by security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who the government believes is Islamic State's point-man in the Philippines.

The gunmen on Tuesday planted black IS flags, took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage from a church, and set fire to buildings.

Thirteen soldiers, two policemen and 51 militants have died in the fighting, according to authorities. This brings the combined official death toll to at least 85.

Thousands of the city's residents have fled because of the fighting, which has seen the military heavily bomb residential areas where the fighters were believed to be hiding.

'Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive.

As the government retakes much of the city, the scope of the battle is becoming clearer.

In the aftermath of ISIS declaring a "wide-scale offensive on positions of Philippine troops in the city of Marawi", Duterte launched a full scale attack against the militant group and was encouraged his troops to be unrestrained in their ruthlessness.

"Initially, nobody knew what happened to them. but after the deaths of two Malaysians in firefights with the armed forces, we can conclude they too took up arms".

But Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee, said it was too risky for rescue teams to enter parts of the city.

Khye Amerol, one of the evacuees told International Business Times that some locals refused to leave Marawi because they want to secure their property from burglars. They are afraid for their safety.

Recalling information provided by their manager, Mr Mangadang said the victims were pulled off a truck because they were unable to cite verses of the Koran, the Islamic Holy text.

In a statement signed by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, he said answers to his questions whether martial law can do more good than harm have remained to be "speculative" because they do not have "solid and sufficient facts" to reject it as "morally reprehensible".

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