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ISIS-linked militants ‘threaten to behead priest and churchgoers’

Soldiers run for cover to evade sniper fire while trying to clear the city of armed militants, one street at a time (Photo: Getty)

Islamists belonging to the militant group Maute have telephoned a bishop to say they will execute the priest and churchgoers kidnapped this week unless the military called off its offensive against them, according to local media.

Mgr Elmer Abacahin of Cagayan de Oro told Mindanao’s Gold Star Daily that the group had phoned Bishop Edwin dela Peña of Marawi city and told him the hostages would be executed one by one unless the government gave in to its demand.

The priest, Fr Chito Suganog, was kidnapped on Tuesday night along with at least a dozen worshippers and church workers.

Violence had erupted in Marawi after the Philippines military raided the hideout of Islamist commander Isnilon Hapilon. In retaliation extremists laid siege to the city, burning buildings, raising ISIS flags, and killing at least two police officers. At least 21 people have died in the fighting. There is no indication Hapilon was captured in the raid.

Thousands of people fled the city on Thursday, jamming their belongings into cars, at the same time as army tanks packed with soldiers advanced towards it.

The priest, Fr Chito, and the others had no role in the conflict, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” Archbishop Villegas said of Fr Chito. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict.”