MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES - MAY 25: Soldiers run for cover to evade sniper fire while trying to clear the city of armed militants, one street at a time, on May 25, 2017 in Marawi city, southern Philippines. Gun battles between ISIS-linked militants and Filipino troops erupted in Marawi city on Tuesday when gunmen from the local terrorist groups Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf rampaged through the southern city, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare 60 days of martial law in Mindanao. Thousands of residents were reported to have fled from Malawi city while at least 21 people were killed, including a police chief who had been beheaded and buildings were torched by the terror groups. President Duterte said the influence of Islamic State is one of the nation's top security concerns, and martial law on Mindanao island could be extended across the Philippines to enforce order, allowing the detention of people without charge. (Photo by Jes Aznar/Getty Images)
Philippines: The next ISIS stronghold?
01:03 - Source: CNN

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Some 70,000 people have fled the city since fighting broke out eight days ago

Militants have set fire to churches and other buildings and raised the ISIS flag

CNN  — 

The Philippines military has unleashed a series of air strikes in a push to regain full control of a largely Muslim city that was overrun last week by ISIS-affiliated fighters.

More than a hundred residents of Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao, have died and 70,000 have fled the town of 200,000 since fighters from the Maute Islamist militant group entered the city and clashed with military and police.

“Precision airstrikes are (being) judiciously used to prevent collateral damage and employed at specific targets of resistance to protect our troops and hasten clearing of the city of terrorist elements who continue to resist,” military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said Tuesday, according to the official Philippine News Agency.

The siege on Marawi unfolded as Muslims worldwide began to mark the holy month of Ramadan. Mindanao has a significant Muslim population, though the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.

The Maute militants set fire to churches and other buildings as they entered the city, flying the flag of the so-called Islamic State to which they pledged allegiance last year.

Sporadic gunfire erupted throughout the day as helicopters flew over the city, a witness told CNN.

Families last week packed belongings into cars and sat in long lines of traffic as they sought to escape the ISIS-backed fighters, residents told CNN at the time.

ISIS in Southeast Asia: Philippines battles growing threat

Parts of neighboring Iligan city are on lockdown, with a nighttime curfew, to prevent fighters from moving in, according to a statement posted on the city’s official Facebook page.

Fighting ongoing

Reports suggested the Maute fighters were defending Isnilon Hapilon, a longstanding terrorist leader designated by ISIS as the group’s emir for Southeast Asia, after he was cornered by Philippines police and military forces.

Filipino soldiers engage in a firefight with ISIS-linked militants on May 30, 2017, in Marawi in the southern Philippines.

Militants’ ongoing resistance suggested Hapilon, who has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head, was still in the city, the Philippines military said.

More than 80 militants had been killed since fighting began, while 17 soldiers and three police officers had died, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Joar Herrara told CNN.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte suggested over the weekend that he would be open to tapping nationalist rebel groups, which recently signed peace deals with the government, as reinforcements in the fight against ISIS.

Duterte declared martial law over the island of Mindanao last week after the crisis began.

“If this martial law lasts and you want to help us fight for the republic, … I will use you as soldiers, with the same pay, privileges, and I will build houses for you,” Duterte said in a message to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.