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Duterte: AFP to decide on mosque strikes

President Duterte has changed his mind and now wants the military to decide whether to bomb mosques in Marawi where Islamic State-inspired terrorists are holed up to end the battle for control of the city.

Speaking at the 23rd anniversary of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) on Wednesday night, Mr. Duterte said the siege of Marawi was prolonged because he had stopped a plan to bomb the mosques to capture or kill the leaders of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists who had occupied the Muslim houses of prayer.

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A direct attack could damage the mosques and the hostages held by the terrorists could be killed.

“I said, ‘No, it will just create more animosity and outright hostility in the government. The Maranaos will not forgive us,’” Mr. Duterte said.

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He said he directed the military to go slow in retaking Marawi.

The result has been a stalemate, he said, adding that some senators have told him that at some time he will have to stop reining in the military.

The President said that during his last visit to Marawi, he told the military that the matter was in its hands.

“The last time I was there, that would be around five days ago, six days ago, I finally said, ‘The option is already yours, because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,’” he added.

Mr. Duterte also said he wanted to seek the release of the hostages held by the terrorists and that he had sent someone who could “save the day for all of us.”

“I have my limits even if I am President. That’s all I could do, I cannot go beyond that,” he said.

The military took Marawi’s Grand Mosque from the terrorists last week without damaging it.

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It used enveloping fire that forced the terrorists to flee the mosque.

The terrorists, however, took their hostages with them.

But the military is not moving in on other mosques to put an end to the conflict.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said assaulting the mosques would anger the people of Marawi and it would make more enemies for the government.

“We will not bomb the mosques where the enemies are hiding along with their hostages. As much as possible, we want to save the lives of hostages,” Petinglay told the Inquirer on Thursday.

“If we do that, the problem of extremism will worsen and we will gain more enemies,” she said.

Brig. Gen. Milquiades Ordiales, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, told reporters on Thursday that the terrorists had holed up in mosques with their hostages since the early days of the crisis.

“That has made it difficult for us, because we do not bomb or shoot mosques. We really have to preserve [them]. Some were hit by bullets but not because the intention was to destroy it. But in the future, you will see how we tried to preserve the mosques,” Ordiales said.

Thursday marked the 101st day of the fighting, which has killed nearly 800, including 617 terrorists, 133 soldiers and police, and 45 civilians.

The military said the terrorists were contained in a few-hundred-square-meter pocket of the city, holed up in buildings and mosques and holding about 50 civilians as hostages.

Among the hostages is Fr. Teresito Suganob, the vicar general of Marawi.

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TAGS: Islamic State, Marawi, Maute group, mosque strikes, President Duterte, Terrorism
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