Those refusing to recite Islamic creed are targeted.By Our Philippines Correspondent
MINDANAO, Philippines, June 1, 2017(Morning Star News) – Among 19 civilians an Islamic extremist group in the Philippines killed after storming a city on May 23 were eight Christians shot for refusing to recite the Muslim creed, government investigators told local press.
They were the first Christians slain in the ongoing battle for Marawi City, capital of Lanao del Sur Province on the island of Mindanao, where a kidnapped priest appeared in a propaganda video on Tuesday (May 30) pleading for his life.
The Maute Group kidnapped the Rev. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, Catholic vicar-general of the prelature of Marawi, at St. Mary’s Cathedral along with 13 other parishioners. More than 100 people reportedly have been killed since the May 23 assault, including 89 of the Islamist militants, 21 security force personnel and 20 soldiers.
Government investigators said the eight slain Christian laborers had fled Marawi and were on their way to the neighboring city of Iligan when dozens of armed Maute militants stopped them. The Islamist militants tied their hands and shot them after the Christians refused to recite the Muslim conversion creed.
Their bodies were reportedly thrown into the ditch, and a signboard was placed beside them reading “Munafik,” which means traitor or liar.
The assailants also asked Police Senior Inspector Freddie Solar to recite the Muslim creed, and as a non-Muslim he too declined and was killed, his wife told investigators.
Along with the priest, the militants have reportedly taken more than 200 hostages. An estimated 200,000 people have fled the city.
The battle in Marawi broke out when police authorities and Philippine soldiers were trying to serve an arrest warrant to the militants’ leader, Isnilon Hapilon, but while raiding his hideout, the soldiers encountered a rain of bullets from militants guarding Hapilon, who escaped.
Teddy Sugpatan, a church elder with the Assembly of God, told Morning Star News that the battle is part of a spiritual warfare. Citing Ephesians 6:12-ff, he called on Christians to remain steadfast, as the struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.”
Nearly 100,000 civilians have reportedly fled Marawi while 129 people, including 89 militants and 21 security forces have been killed. Marawi is predominantly Muslim.
Suganob, vicar general vicar-general of the prelature of Marawi, appealed in the video for the government to meet the Maute Group’s demands and stop fighting. The IS-affiliated group has warned the officials that they would harm the priest if the government does not stop airstrikes. The video was circulated through social media.
“Mr. President [Rodrigo Duterte], we are in the midst of this war,” Suganob says. “We are asking for your help to please give what they are asking for, to withdraw forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City, and to stop the air attacks, and to stop the cannons.”
The Philippines military and others dismissed the video as propaganda that the priest was evidently coerced to make.
The leader of a Christian ministry in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said that since the IS ideology is already present in the southern Philippines, Christian workers have been praying day and night that it will not influence the children they are serving.
The ministry teaches Muslim children the importance of love.
The Maute Group is one of the newest but most feared terror groups in the southern Philippines; it became better known in November last year when its members raided Butig town in Lanao del Sur and raised an IS-similar flag in the town hall. MG engaged government soldiers, and since then the administration has not taken the group lightly.
Based in Central Mindanao, MG, locally known as the Islamic State in Lanao (ISIL), was founded by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute and originally had an estimated 100 members. Intelligence reports indicate that they have joined forces with other terror groups operating in the southern Philippines.
A number of the MG militants are erstwhile members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Islamic revolutionary group, which has entered into a peace talks with the government. The military is expected to face a complex challenge as MG members are married to relatives of MILF militants now finalizing a peace pact with the government.
Moreover, the Philippine military has also arrested suspected members of MG who were responsible for the September 2016 bombing of a Davao City night market that killed 14 people. Davao is the hometown of Duterte.