23 Christian families rescued from Marawi, Philippines - City held by extremists linked to ISIS

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By Beth Westwood | 1 June 2017

On 23 May, Islamic extremists stormed the city of Marawi in the Southern Philippines, raising Islamic State flags. A chapel and Christian school were set on fire and a priest and 13 other Christians were also taken hostage.

While most of the city's 200,000 residents have fled or been evacuated, around 2,000 people were left stranded. The military are trying to regain control after local Islamic extremist groups claimed allegiance with the Islamic State and besieged the city. Nine Christians were shot at a checkpoint and a police chief beheaded. Reports continue to emerge of the extremists targeting Christians and forcing them to recite the shahada (Islamic profession of faith), and since the fighting started in May, hundreds more have been killed.

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Image: A view of the Maute group stronghold with an ISIS flag in Marawi City in southern Philippines. REUTERS / Erik de Castro

Although the Philippines is a majority-Christian country, the region surrounding Marawi has seen an increase in violent Islamic movements. Their goal is to create an independent Islamic state.

“They're attacking with the intention to occupy,” said an Open Doors field worker. “Marawi is strategic... If ISIS succeeds in making Marawi a caliphate, they can easily spread to other provinces."

Despite this, many Muslim families are opposed to the violent actions of the extremists. Muslims have even been hiding Christians in their homes to protect them from being attacked or kidnapped.

Through our local partners we’ve been able to rescue 23 Christian families trapped inside the city. Khalil*, an Open Doors contact, said, “What they need now are clothing, underwear, sanitary napkins, toiletries, blankets, and sleeping mats. As for food, food can still be bought in the nearby city."

The attack in Marawi is the first time many people have experienced conflict first hand. “Merely the sound of a truck gives them jitters." Said Khalil.

President Duterte has responded to the attack by calling for 60 days of martial law in the region surrounding the city. This gives the military more power, and the freedom to detain people without charge. It’s only the second time martial law has been imposed in the Philippines since the fall of former president Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

"Pray that our team would be comforted and enabled by the Lord as they minister to those affected by the siege.” Khalil said. “Pray that God would grant them wisdom as they navigate the sensitive situation. Pray that everyone affected would be covered in God's peace.”

*Name changed for security purposes.

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