MANILA - A handful of Maute terrorists who fled from the battle in the southern town of Marawi has infiltrated neighboring Iligan City, a local official said Thursday.
Citing intelligence reports, Iligan Vice Mayor Jemar Vera Cruz said the extremists were unarmed and have likely mixed with civilians who sought safety in Iligan in droves.
"Itong pumasok, they are only a handful. They are not that many. Ang pangamba lang namin ay baka mayroon silang arms na embedded na rito sa Iligan," Cruz told radio DZMM.
(The Maute members who have entered Iligan were only a handful, they are not that many. Our only worry is that they may have weapons that are already embedded here.)
Some 191,000 Marawi residents passed through Iligan City to escape from the hundreds of extremists who stormed their hometown last May 23.
Of this number, 31,000 people chose to stay in Iligan evacuation centers, Cruz said.
Security forces, the vice mayor added, have been deployed in areas where the terrorists may retrieve weapons from their sympathizers.
"I think, with the cooperation of everybody sa Iligan, hindi sila makagawa ng (they won't be able to mount) terroristic acts sa Iligan," he said.
The battle for Marawi marked its 24th day on Thursday with no sign that it would end any time soon.
"There will be no more deadlines," said Armed Forces spokesperson Restituo Padilla, referring to a promise by the military to clear the city by June 12, the country's independence day.
"It may take some time," he added.
The seizure of Marawi has alarmed Southeast Asian nations which fear Islamic State - which is on the back foot in Iraq and Syria - is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao island that could threaten their region.
About 100 militants are in the besieged area, the military has said. There are also an estimated 300 to 600 civilians trapped or being held hostage in the city.
Islamic State's news agency, Amaq, said its fighters controlled two-thirds of the city.
The Philippines has been fighting twin insurgencies from Maoist-led rebels and Muslim separatists in the south for nearly 50 years. Critics say military action is not enough to bring peace to a region that has long suffered from political neglect and poverty. -- With Reuters