By Kanupriya Kapoor
MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – Civilians held hostage by Islamist militants occupying a southern Philippine city have been forced to loot homes, take up arms against government troops and serve as sex slaves for rebel fighters, the army said on Tuesday.
Citing accounts of seven residents of Marawi City who either escaped or were rescued, the military said some hostages were forced to convert to Islam, carry wounded fighters to mosques, and marry militants of the Maute group loyal to Islamic State.
“This is what is happening inside, this is very evident,” military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera told a news conference.
“These are evil personalities.”
Their accounts, which could not be immediately verified, are the latest harrowing accounts to come out of a conflict zone that the military has been unable to clear for five weeks, as well-armed and organized rebels fight off soldiers with sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Some escapees say bodies of residents have been left in the streets, some for weeks, and civilians are distressed by government air strikes and artillery bombardments that have reduced parts of Marawi to rubble.
The protracted seizure has worried the region about the extent the Islamic State’s agenda may have gained traction in the southern Philippines, which is more used to banditry, piracy and separatism than radical Islam.
The rebels’ combat capability, access to heavy weapons and use of foreign fighters have raised fears in the mainly Catholic country that the Marawi battle could just be the start of a wider campaign, and it could be presented by Maute as a triumph to aid their recruitment.
President Rodrigo Duterte, reappearing in public after a week-long absence, said he was deeply saddened by the crisis and promised Marawi would be rebuilt.
He said he had cousins who were members of the Maute group, one of which had been killed, and his decision to declare martial law on Mindanao was justified, because he was aware of…