MARAWI CITY, Philippines Bodies of what appeared to be executed civilians were found in a ravine outside a besieged Philippine city on Sunday as a six-day occupation by Islamist rebels fending off a military onslaught took a more sinister turn.
The eight dead, most of them shot in the head and some with hands tied behind their backs, were laborers who were stopped by Islamic State-linked militants on the outskirts of Marawi City while trying to flee clashes, according to police.
Nine spent bullet casings were found on a blood-stained patch of road at the top of the ravine. Attached to one of the bodies was a sign that said “Munafik” (traitor).
The discovery confirms days of speculation that Maute rebels had killed civilians during a takeover of Marawi, that the military believes is aimed at winning the Maute recognition from the Islamic State as a Southeast Asian affiliate.
The fierce resistance of the Maute gunmen and the apparent executions of civilians will add to growing fears that subscribers to Islamic State’s radical ideology are determined to establish a presence in the southern Philippines, with the support of extremists from Indonesia and Malaysia.
The army deployed more ground troops over the weekend and dispatched army and air force helicopters to carry out rocket strikes on Maute positions as fighters held buildings and a bridge deep inside a predominantly Muslim city where few civilians remained.
Some of those trapped in Marawi had called and text-messaged a hotline pleading with the military to stop the air strikes, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, a local politician coordinating complex efforts to evacuate civilians, dead and alive.
“Some have no food at all. Some fear for their lives,” he told Reuters.
“This is a conflict that has gone beyond proportion. The magnitude of the degree of the damage and the people that are affected … it’s really massive.”
At least 61 militants were killed and 15 security forces as of Saturday, according to the army, which said it could confirm nine civilians killed by militants.
At the ravine where the bodies were found, Marawi police officer Jamail C Mangadang said the victims were carpenters who were part of an evacuation convoy stopped by rebels late on Saturday.
Recalling information provided by their manager, Mangadang said the victims were pulled off a truck because they were unable to cite verses of the Koran, the Islamic holy text.
The military said it was possible there were others victims.
“This development validates a series of reports of atrocities committed by the militants earlier,” said military spokesman, Restituto Padilla.
“We are still validating other reports of atrocities.”
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency last week claimed responsibility for the Maute’s brazen siege. Unverified statements claiming to be from the extremists have appeared…