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MARAWI, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic priest has been taken hostage by ISIS in Marawi cathedral. So far, 21 people, including five soldiers, have been killed in the fighting between the ISIS group Abu Sayyaf and the Filipino military in Marawi City, located in the Lanao del Sur province in the southern Philippines.
The fighting included the use of surgical air strikes, although the military resolved not to use air power on Wednesday. The majority of the 200,000 residents have fled to escape the battle between the military and ISIS.
This situation developed following eruptions of conflict once the army raided the hide-out of Abu Sayyaf commander,Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon is an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher who pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Hapilon was not been captured in the raid, after which militants plowed through the city, burning buildings, including the residence of the bishop, and cut off electricity and raised the Islamic State flag.
Cardinal Luis Tagle released a statement Thursday afternoon pleading for prayers for the besieged city: "We must ask what makes people hurt their neighbor? We cry for you, for all Filipinos and everyone in the world, as many lives are ruined because of this violence."
The hostage priest's name is Fr. Teresito "Chito" Suganob, and the Filipino bishops' president, Abp. Socrates Villegas, remarked, "They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled."
This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cut his trip to Russia short and declare martial law throughout the southern region of the country. He has threatened to expand the order to the entire Philippines.
Duterte issued a stark warning to the Islamists in the mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people: "If you fight us, you will die. If there is open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it."
The U.S. Embassy has issued a warning for U.S. citizens, discouraging them from being near large crowds. "While the U.S. Embassy has no information that the events in Marawi City represent a direct threat to U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the Philippines," read the statement, "we encourage U.S. citizens to review personal security plans, avoid large crowds and gatherings and remain vigilant at all times."
The mayor of Marawi, Majul Gandamra, told a Manila radio station that the fighting has caused a crisis of resources for those still in the city: "It's getting difficult for people to get their basic needs, like water and food."
Abu Sayyaf released its first propaganda video in June 2016, seeking to recruit radicalized Muslims in the region.
Muslims make up 5 percent of the population of the Philippines and 99 percent of the city of Marawi. Islam was brought to the Philippines in the 13th and 14th centuries, while the Catholic faith did not arrive until the 16th century. Currently most Filipino Muslims live on the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located.