By Sarah Kearney
06/14/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Violence has erupted in the Philippines as the Maute group besieged Marawi, a Muslim-majority town in a country where more than 90 percent of the population is Christian. The Maute group, an Islamic group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), is one of the newest, but most feared, groups in Southeast Asia. Brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute lead the group. Growing up in Marawi, they became very well educated and declared allegiance to IS prior to forming the Maute group. Their mother, Farhana Maute, played a central role in funding the group.
Chaos first erupted on May 23 when the Maute group stormed Marawi. The military reported that the clash was sparked by a botched raid attempting to capture Isnilon Hapilon, one of the key links to IS in the Philippines. In the ensuing violence, the Maute group released prisoners from jail and took hostages, including a Catholic priest and more than a dozen churchgoers. Most of the 200,000 residents of Marawi fled for their lives as the militants torched a church, the jail, and schools. After the firefight between the militants and Filipino troops subsided, Maute militants raised the black flag of IS over the city to announce their control.
In reaction to the violence, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law over the whole island of Mindanao. The declaration of martial law has had little effect on the Islamic militants and the fight for the city seems to have reached somewhat of a stalemate.
Nearly 200,000 residents of Marawi were able to escape; however, an estimated 300-600 civilians are still being held as hostages or are trapped inside the city. Some have reported that most of the remaining hostages are Christians. Militants have targeted Christians by filtering civilians as they try to escape. Some reported that the militants allowed Muslim civilians to escape from Marawi, but would kill or take hostage any Christians attempting to flee.
The goal of this attack is to establish an IS foothold in Southeast Asia. Mindanao was an easy target for militants to recruit as it has suffered from years of neglect and political turmoil. Separatist groups have waged decades-long wars against the central government. What makes this particular attack so concerning is that it signals that these groups are now cooperating, and with international support.
The Maute Group has alliances with Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group, Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan’s band in Sulu, the Ansar Khalifa Philippines in the Soccsksargen region, the Maute group in Lanao del Sur, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Among the insurgents in Marawi it has been reported that there are foreigners from Malaysia, Indonesia, Syria, India, Saudi Arabia, and Chechnya. These Islamic extremist groups will stop at nothing to reach their goal, and that means killing anyone in their way, including relief and rescue workers and civilians.
Despite the fighting and heartbreak, rays of hope filtered though. Muslim residents of Marawi have continually demonstrated assistance to their Christian neighbors. Some have even allowed their Christian friends to wear their hijabs so they could pose as Muslims to get past the terrorists. Others sheltered Christians in their homes until they could escape. Muslim police officers stayed back to help find Christians still hiding in the war zone, trapped ever since the attacks began over three weeks ago.
Please continue to pray for Christians in the Philippines as they endure the Maute group’s invasion. Pray for protection and provision for the families held hostage. Also, pray for the government to make wise decisions in retaking Marawi and freeing the hostages.