The Philippines has declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao after a fierce bout of fighting between the army and militants with links to ISIS.
President Rodrigo Duterte made the announcement on Tuesday in Moscow where he was on an official visit.
Earlier on Tuesday, forces clashed with militants in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur Province, during a government attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of an ISIS branch in Southeast Asia.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on the terror riven island of Mindanao (file photo)
Filipino soldiers stand guard outside a government facility following the declaration of Martial Law, in Davao city, southern Philippines on Tuesday
Three members of the security forces were killed and 12 wounded, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference, as clashes erupted in the wake of what the military said was a raid on a flat where about 15 rebels were hiding.
Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, the armed forces chief of staff, said nearly 50 gunmen entered Marawi City, which has a population of about 200,000, and burned houses and other buildings to sow confusion during the fighting, the Associated Press reported.
One group of fighters took up positions near a hospital, where they raised a black ISIS style flag, while others battled troops and police near a provincial jail.
‘The whole of Marawi City is blacked out,’ Lorenzana said. ‘There is no light, and there are Maute snipers all around,’ so the Philippine troops are holding their positions. He said reinforcements would arrive Wednesday.
Mr Duterte cancelled a meeting set for Wednesday with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and planned to cut short his trip, during which he was also due to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Putin was set to meet Duterte on Tuesday, rather than Thursday, his press secretary Dmitry Peskov was quoted as TASS news agency.
The government urged civilians on Mindanao to stay in their homes or flee if it was safe, and the military said reinforcements of an initial 500 soldiers were on the way, but were being hamstrung by rebels blocking roads.
Philippines security forces continue to battle the Abu Sayyaf group, which has kidnapped hundreds since the early 1990s to extract ransoms
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (R) shaking hands with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Vladimirovich Morgulov (L)
The militants belong to the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS in the Middle East in 2014. Previous military offensives against the Maute, based in Lanao del Sur province, have lasted several days.
‘There are Maute snipers all around, so the troops are still holding and elements have already joined,’ Lorenzana.
Fires raged in Marawi but the military and the city’s mayor said the situation was now under control.
Witnesses told local television that gunfire was clattering sporadically around the city. Several buildings were on fire, including a church, officials said.
Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, commander of the Philippines’ First Infantry Division, said security forces were trying to locate the militants.
‘Based on our assessment right now there are more or less 100 divided into groups of 10 in different locations,’ he told news channel ANC.
‘Since they are advocating ISIS ideology they have to show ISIS that they are a force to be reckoned with,’ he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.