Christians and other civilians trapped in Marawi City in the Philippines are being tortured and used as sex slaves and human shields by an Islamic State-affiliated terror group. Soldiers in the Philippines Army have also reported finding decapitated bodies on the streets.
The Catholic Online reported Tuesday that although the Maute group jihadists, who are aligned with IS and are operating under its command, have been reduced to holding just a few blocks in the city, they have been carrying out horrific atrocities.
The terrorists are still holding close to 100 Christians hostages, survivors who've escaped have said.
One of the Christians in captivity is Roman Catholic priest Teresito Soganub, who is an ambassador to the Vatican and advocate for peace. Soganub appeared in a video late in May begging Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to help the hostages, but it is not know what has happened to him.
Military spokesman Jo-Ar Herrera confirmed during a news conference that hostages are being kept as sex slaves and as human shields.
"This is what is happening inside, this is very evident," Herrera said on Tuesday.
"These are evil personalities."
Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Garcia of the Western Mindanao Command separately said that the Army has found the decapitated bodies of at least five civilians in the occupied city.
Reuters noted that it was not clear when the bodies were found, though the military warned that the atrocities could rise sharply as the battle continues.
Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said that the civilian death toll in Marawi is not yet known, and while authorities have been able to independently confirm 44 casualties, many more are expected to have been killed.
"(It) may increase significantly once we are able to validate all this information," Padilla said.
"There have been a significant number that have been seen but again, we cannot include many of these," he added.
Another 71 security forces have been killed, reports said, along with 299 militants, while over 246,000 people have been displaced.
Duterte, who has called the IS invaders "dogs of hell," said that the jihadists are motivated only by murder and destruction, and had been planning the occupation of the city well in advance.
"It seems to be limitless supply. They were able to stockpile their arms," the president said.
"Some of those who traveled to the Middle East got contaminated, brought the ideology back home and promised to declare war against humanity."
Catholic News Agency reported that the terror group has been attacking other towns in southern Philippines as well, and last week jihadists destroyed a Catholic chapel, and desecrated consecrated hosts and religious icons.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who have pledged allegiance to IS, carried out a nine-hour long attack on the town of Malagakit, robbing houses and stores at gunpoint, forcing hundreds of residents to flee.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato condemned "in the strongest terms possible the wicked desecration of the Catholic Chapel of Malagakit in the parish of Pigcawayan ..."
"If the BIFF wants to have an image as a 'respecter' of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration in Malagakit and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions," he added.