Roads out of the Philippine city of Marawi have been overflowing with evacuees as government troops battle militants sympathetic to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Most of the city’s population of 200,000 have left, many pouring into Iligan about 40 kilometres to the north, where the authorities say they’re stretched to the limit.
There are fears that extremists have also left Marawi and are blending in with civilians, possibly with the intention of launching attacks.
“We don’t want what’s happening in Marawi to spill over in Iligan,” said military spokesman Colonel Alex Aduca. “We want to ensure the safety of people here, to prevent elements from entering and conducting terrorist activities.”
He added that some rebels had been caught trying to get into Iligan, but did not give details.
Dozens of people – militants, troops and civilians – have been killed since last Tuesday when rebels from the Maute group went on the rampage. Witnesses said they saw militants flying the ISIL flag and wearing its black outfits.
The violence followed a failed attempt by the military to arrest a rebel leader thought to be a key recruiter for ISIL in the Philippines.
The fighting is the biggest security challenge for President Duterte since he took office nearly a year ago.
The resistance the fighters are putting up is adding to fears that the group’s radical ideology is spreading in the southern Philippines, which could become a haven for militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond.
AFP news agency (@AFP) May 29, 2017