Army tanks packed with soldiers rolled into a southern Philippine city on Thursday to try to restore control after Isis-linked militants launched a violent siege that sent thousands of people fleeing for their lives and raised fears of extremists gaining traction in the country.
At least 21 people have died in fighting that erupted late Tuesday, when the army raided the Marawi hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists and has a $5 million bounty on his head.
But the operation quickly went wrong. Militants called in reinforcements and swept through the streets, torching buildings, taking a Catholic priest and his worshippers hostage and sealing off much of the city to the outside world.
There was no immediate word on Hapilon’s whereabouts, but there was no indication he had been captured.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared 60 days of martial law on Tuesday across the southern third of the nation, an area that includes Marawi but extends well beyond it. Mindanao is home to 22 million people.