Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has cut short an official visit to Moscow after deadly clashes erupted between Filipino government troops and Islamist militants Tuesday in the southern city of Marawi.
ISIS’ media wing, Amaq Agency, put out a statement announcing that “fighters of the Islamic State launch a wide-scale offensive on positions of Philippine troops in the city of Marawi.”
Speaking from Moscow, Philippines Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that the violence in Mindanao, one of the Philippines’ southernmost islands, was Duterte’s priority, despite the high-profile visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“(The Russians) understand that the security of the Filipino people, especially in Marawi and in Mindanao, is a priority,” Cayetano said.
“They understand that the presence of the president, President Duterte, is essential in the Philippines. But I will be staying behind. The agreements will be signed.”
The outbreak of violence has prompted Duterte to declare martial law throughout both the city of Marawi and the wider island of Mindanao, of which Marawi is a part.
Clashes between government forces and the Maute group, an Islamist militant organization based in Mindanao, began in Marawi, a city of about 200,000 people about 2 p.m. local time Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed that the fighters had taken over several government buildings in the city, and had torched others, including a church, a school and the city jail. It was not clear from his statement how damaged the buildings were by the arson.
Mindanao is home to a sizable Muslim population, in contrast to the overwhelmingly Catholic remainder of the country.
The militants had reportedly taken over a medical center and replaced the Philippines flag with a black, ISIS-style banner.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said that Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS, was among the armed men.
Read more: CNN