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Priest among 14 hostages taken in siege of Philippines city

25 May 2017

"Father Chito Suganob and others were in the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians when members of the Maute fighting group forced their way into the Cathedral, taking with them Fr. Chito and others as hostages", Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

The group of armed men was believed to be led by Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was previously based in Basilan.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared martial law in the south because of the militants' siege on the city.

He said dozens of gunmen occupied city hall, a hospital and a jail and burned a Catholic church, a college and some houses in a bold attack that killed at least two soldiers and a police officer and wounded 12 others.

"I'm appealing to residents of Marawi City to stay home, drop on the ground if they hear gunshots", vice governor of the city Mamintal Adiong told the Philippine Star newspaper.

Philippine authorities assert the situation is under control - though they have told residents in Marawi City to remain indoors and summoned reinforcements from neighboring regions to redouble their efforts to reclaim the city Wednesday morning.

The declaration will last for 60 days while the details of the proclamation "will be forthcoming", Mr. Abella said. Maute snipers and booby traps were hampering operations, which could last three more days, the military said.

The incident highlights the challenges facing Duterte, who has pleaded with separatists and moderate Muslims in the predominantly Catholic nation to shun Abu Sayyaf and Maute. Black flags of the worldwide terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) were also seen atop vehicles.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes the coffins of 15 soldiers killed in a gunbattle with Abu Sayyaf militants in Mindanao in August 2016.

Martial law allows Duterte to use the armed forces to carry out arrests, searches and detentions more rapidly.

The US and other Western governments warned this month that terrorists were planning to kidnap foreigners in other tourist hotspots in the western and central Philippines, adding to longstanding advisories of abduction threats in Mindanao.

Duterte who along with Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were on an official trip to Moscow on Tuesday cut short his visit to head back to the Philippines.

"We're trying our best to contain the situation", Herrera said by telephone, adding that troops were moving carefully to avoid hitting civilians in the area of the fighting.

Duterte has faced global criticism for his violent approach to tackling the illegal drug trade. Hapilon was reportedly designated the leader of the alliance.

Some buildings were also set on fire by the terrorist group, including schools and the church, according to Mr. Lorenzana.

Priest among 14 hostages taken in siege of Philippines city