Indonesia rife with ISIS sleeper cells, says military chief

Indonesia rife with ISIS sleeper cells, says military chief”

Islamist militants control about 20 percent of the southern Philippines town of Marawi, a top general said on Tuesday, more than twice the area the military cited last week, suggesting that an end to the bloody three-week siege is not at hand.

Duterte had aimed for the army, fighting with technical support from USA advisers, to clear the Islamist forces from Marawi by Monday after three weeks of fierce fighting that has forced most of the 200,000 residents to flee from the city.

The cooperation between the longtime allies in the battle is significant because Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a hostile stance towards Washington and has vowed to eject USA military trainers and advisers from his country.

On its website, the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines in May described "12 days of training in the Philippine summer heat" involving Philippine troops and members of the U.S. armed forces.

Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no United States "boots on the ground".

But with U.S. military assistance under way in Marawi, the harsh rhetoric has stopped.

An Associated Press journalist and photographer saw a U.S. Navy P3 Orion plane hovering in cloudy skies above Marawi on Friday.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines and home to a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.

The Filipino president did not comment on allegations that Philippines military officials bypassed his authority to request assistance from US Special Forces, instead remarking that, "our soldiers are pro-American, that I can not deny".

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a captured militant had told the military the IS chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had directly "incited" the gunmen to attack the city of 200,000.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement US forces were not participating directly in combat operations as it is prohibited by Philippines law. Besides kidnappings for ransom, it has engaged in bombings, assassination and extortion, making it one of the Philippines' most serious security threats.

"This is a problem which is amidst us", Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Australian radio on Saturday as the battle to re-take Marawi neared the end of the third week, with a death toll of almost 200.

Up until this past May, about 300,000 residents lived in Marawi, but local law enforcement estimates that a majority have fled fearing that ISIS will capture them and use them as human shields.

Outside governments have expressed alarm over the siege by the militants, who are still holed up in buildings with civilian hostages in Marawi's commercial district.

A gun-and-bomb attack that killed four people in Jakarta previous year marked the first Islamic State strike in the region.

"So far, we have not found any indication of Islamic militants infiltrating from the Philippines to our territory", Warsito said.

WIDER PLOT Monday's Independence Day marks the 119th anniversary of the country's liberation from Spanish colonial rule at the close of the 19th century.

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