Duterte fires sniper rifle at Maute terrorists
On his third visit to war-ravaged Marawi City, President Duterte fired a sniper rifle at positions held by Islamic State (IS)-linked gunmen to show solidarity with government troops who have been fighting the terrorists for the past three months, officials said on Friday.
During his visit on Thursday, Mr. Duterte inspected a devastated community where he spoke with troops and fired the rifle twice from a military sniper’s nest, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
“The President wanted to be at the front line, so he went to the main battle area,” Padilla told reporters in Malacañang.
Mr. Duterte arrived hours after the military seized control of the Grand Mosque in the center of the city following a fierce gun battle.
The President was in a combat uniform, wore a helmet and bulletproof vest and carried his own rifle. A collector of guns, including many sniper rifles, Mr. Duterte knew what he was doing, Padilla said.
“He just wanted to perhaps show the troops he was one with them every step of the way,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the President was “not engaging” in combat and did not have a live target when he was photographed aiming the sniper rifle.
“The President is very conversant with weapons like this and he knows exactly the limits of what he should do,” said Abella.
“He was given the opportunity to be able to check it out, and he did.”
Mr. Duterte spoke with the troops and handed out food packs, watches and financial assistance to the soldiers.
“I will build a strong Army, Air Force, Navy, or police so that for all time (the people) can always depend on you,” the President said.
“I need to be with you to show my solidarity, and sadly, to convey also my grief for the death of soldiers and police,” he said.
He congratulated the troops for regaining control of the Islamic Center, an indication that the fighting to free Marawi of militants was entering the final stage.
Mr. Duterte visited the main battle area, a cluster of dense, mosque-dotted communities which has been heavily damaged, with AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año and top commanders, officials said.
About 600 gunmen launched the siege on May 23 after a botched Army raid to capture the group’s leader, Isnilon Hapilon, according to the military.
The United States and Australia have deployed surveillance aircraft to help Filipino troops locate the militants who took positions in buildings, mosques and houses, some of them linked by underground tunnels. China provided weapons and Southeast Asian governments offered aid for troops and the hundreds of thousands of displaced residents.
Martial law, imposed by Mr. Duterte in the whole of Mindanao initially for 60 days, has been extended to the end of the year to deal with the Marawi crisis and prevent other armed groups from reinforcing the militants or launching similar uprisings elsewhere in the volatile region. —WITH A REPORT FROM AP
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