World

Marawi rebels fighting with stolen weapons, ammo

MARAWI: A week-long assault by rebels in the southern Philippine city of Marawi is being fuelled with stolen weapons and ammunition and fighters broken out of jails, the military said yesterday, as troops battled militants resisting ground and air attacks.

The pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Maute group has proven to be a fierce enemy, clinging on to the heart of Marawi through days of air strikes on what the military called known rebel targets, defying expectations of a swift end to their occupation.

The military yesterday deployed for the first time SF-260 close air support planes to back attack helicopters and ground troops looking to box rebels into a downtown area.

The rebels hold about a tenth of the city, the army said.

Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said Maute had kept up the fight with rifles and ammunition stolen from a police station, a prison and an armoured police vehicle.

"They were able to get an armoured vehicle of the police.

"Inside, there is a supply of bullets," he said.

He added that the ammunition was among the stolen items the rebels were using to resist the forces being poured into the area.

The militants, who freed jailed comrades to join the battle, opted for urban warfare because arms were available in the city and homes and shops provided ample supplies of food, Mr Padilla said.

The military has, from the outset, insisted it has control of the situation, but the slow pace of efforts to retake Marawi has prompted questions about its strategy, Reuters reported.

PROPAGANDA

That has been compounded by social media images of smiling fighters with assault rifles posing on an armoured, American-made police combat vehicle, dressed in black and wearing headbands typical of ISIS.

Another picture showed a bearded man at the wheel of a police van flying an ISIS flag.

The authenticity of the images has not been independently verified and the military has urged the public not to spread "propaganda".

Meanwhile, the troops have killed 89 militants during the urban battles, AFP reported authorities as saying.

Twenty-one security forces have also died, Mr Padilla said, bringing the combined death toll to more than 120.

PhilippinesISISGun Violence