MARAWI CITY – Going against the “condemnable” acts of Islamic State-linked Maute group, one Maranao resident hid over 70 people—most of whom were Christians—in his home, and shielded them from harm.
Whenever a member of the Maute group knocked on his door asking about the people in his house, Norodin Alonto Lucman sent them away.
On Saturday morning, he led all his wards out onto the streets, and taught them to shout “Allahu akbar (God is great)” when they passed checkpoints.
Several times, Maute group members questioned them if there were any Christians in their group, which they denied until they reached safe ground.
As they walked, more and more trapped civilians joined them until there were about 163 men, women, and children- Christian and Muslim alike- in their group.
After 12 days, they made it out of the conflict area, away from the sight and stench of the unrecovered dead.
Lucman said that Muslims have been risking their lives to protect their Christian friends and employees, staying when they could have left their fellows behind. The acts of the Islamic State, the international terror group believed to be behind the attacks, are condemnable, he said.
However, the rescued civilians’ ordeal does not end with getting to government-held areas. They will still have to undergo a vetting process to prove that they are not ISIS fighters pretending innocence.
On Saturday afternoon, soldiers bound and blindfolded 16 men found crossing the Mapandi River for fear they could be ISIS. They had been released as of this writing.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año meanwhile gave the assurance that the military will investigate reports that at least two people last seen under government interrogation were found dead.
A man who was filmed by ABS-CBN News as he was stopped at a checkpoint was found among eight bodies thrown into a ditch along the road to Marawi City. A second man who was accused of being a robber was found dead as well.
Abuses are not accepted acts by the military, said Año, designated implementor of President Rodrigo Duterte's martial rule over Mindanao.
In a press conference, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that categorically, as far as the defense department and military was concerned, it was no longer just the Maute group behind the continuing rampage in Marawi City, but ISIS.
At least eight foreign fighters have died in the clashes with government forces, with more foreigners still being spotted.
Lorenzana said that if it were just the Maute group, they would have given up long ago. But the strength and persistence of the current fighters is nothing they have seen in Lanao del Sur before.
The defense chief estimates that there remained between 200 to 250 terrorists in Marawi City.