Islamic State jihadis fighting to establish a caliphate in Marawi, the Philippines’ only “Islamic city,” released a video this week showing the complete destruction of the city’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists affiliated with the local jihadi outfits, Maute group and Abu Sayyaf, overran the city in May, taking Christians hostage, killing anyone who could not recite Quranic verses, and flying the Islamic State flag over the city’s mosques. President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a 60-day martial law period over the entire island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located, and has launched an airstrike offensive against the terrorists.
Philippine authorities believe that many of those fighting in Marawi are not indigenous jihadis but foreigners who have traveled to the Philippines to help establish an ISIS caliphate there. ISIS’s Amaq News Agency has helped bolster this belief by releasing two propaganda videos from Marawi. The latest, released this week, shows ISIS jihadis within St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Shot in a style similar to videos that showed the destruction of the Mosul Museum in Iraq, the terrorists tore down all the statues within the Roman Catholic church, breaking them apart with hammers and stomping on them. They took down the large cross that adorns the church, as well as trampling the baby Jesus and tearing apart a photo of Pope Benedict XVI. The terrorists then set the building on fire:
“That is blasphemy! It’s unacceptable. It’s obvious that their actions are really out of this world. It’s demonic,” Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, according to the Philippine Inquirer. “We are angered by what happened. Our faith has really been trampled on.”
De la Peña had previously confirmed the abduction of Vicar General Father Teresito Soganub, along with a number of other church officials and believers in the church at the time. “It happened in fact on the eve of Mary’s feast: we ask her for help” because “only she can come to our aid,” de la Pena said in a statement. “We also make an appeal to Pope Francis to pray for us and to ask the terrorists to release the hostages, in the name of our common humanity.”
The terrorists featured Soganub in a video released last week, in which the priest stands before a pile of rubble and implores Duterte to cease the airstrike campaign against ISIS or they will kill all the hostages. Following the release of that video, Amaq published another short film showing terrorists fighting on the streets of Marawi, greeting each other with “Allahu akbar.”
The Inquirer notes that some of those seen in the latest video appear to be teens and young adults, fitting the profiles of the terrorists that eyewitnesses have provided the media. Philippine police and military officers tell reporters their intelligence suggests that they have no plans of fleeing and have stockpiled weapons and food in the city, expecting an extended battle. “There are underground tunnels and basements that even a 500-pounder (bomb) cannot destroy,” Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, head of the military command in Western Mindanao, told the BBC.
While the struggle to liberate the city of its ISIS presence continues, police announced one major breakthrough on Tuesday: the arrest of senior leaders of the Maute group who had attempted to flee to Davao, the Mindanao city where President Rodrigo Duterte governed as mayor for 22 years and continues to call home. Among those arrested was Cayamora Maute, the father of the Maute brothers who gave the terrorist group its name. Duterte is now offering a five million peso ($101,040.75) reward for each of the Maute brothers, Abdullah and Omar, the leaders of the local terrorist group. The government is also offering twice that for the capture of Isnilon Hapilon, the head of Abu Sayyaf. The United States has also placed a $5 million bounty on Hapilon. Both Maute and Abu Sayyaf have pledged allegiance to ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and appear to be working together in Marawi.
One Islamist group that has not joined forces with the ISIS affiliates, however, is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its affiliate, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Both are Muslim separatist groups that have supported Duterte since his presidential candidacy was announced, largely due to his regard for Muslims in the nation’s south. The MNLF has offered to fight alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against ISIS. The MILF has called for the release of Father Soganub, citing his efforts to foster interfaith trust.