News Philippines 30 minutes ago: A priest and several churchgoers have been taken hostage by fighters in Marawi City, on the Philippine island of Mindanao, as thousands of residents fled ongoing unrest that prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the southern region.
As the violence continues, Duterte said on Wednesday that he will consider expanding his martial law order throughout the country “in order to protect the people”.
The violence erupted on Tuesday after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf group, which has pledged allegiance to ISIL. Abu Sayyaf fighters called for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute, and dozens of gunmen managed to enter Marawi, home to about 200,000 people.
Clashes between security forces and about 100 fighters ensued, leaving at least three members of the security forces dead. The attackers reportedly burned a Catholic church, the city jail, and two schools, as well as occupied the main streets and two bridges leading to the city, located some 816km south of the capital, Manila.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said fighters had forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized a priest, 10 worshipers and three church workers.
“They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled,” Villegas said in a statement.
“[The priest] was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict,” he added.
The husband of a woman being held hostage said he was worried about his wife, a secretary at the cathedral, because she does not have her medicines for a heart problem.
“I hope they free them, including Father Chito and my wife and their companions, because they are innocent,” Jaime Mayormita told Manila’s DZMM radio.
The man said when he last called his wife, someone else answered her phone, telling him to ask the military not to go near the area.
Mayormita added he had not been able to contact his wife since then.
Officials were not available for comment on the report of hostage-taking.