A Catholic priest and a number of worshipers have been taken hostage after Islamic State-linked militants besieged the southern Philippine city of Marawi and beheaded a police chief there.
Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena told The Associated Press that the militants forced their way into the Marawi Cathedral and seized Catholic priest Fr. Chito Suganob, 10 worshipers and three church workers. The Philippine Star reported that the church was also burned by the militants.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement that Chito was not a threat to anyone.
"At the time of his capture, Fr. Chito was in the performance of his ministry as a priest. He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict," Villegas said.
The violence erupted in the Asian nation Tuesday after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, according to AP. He is on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said when the militants called for reinforcements, around 100 gunmen entered Marawi, a mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people, and carried out further assaults. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial rule for 60 days in the entire Mindanao region of 22 million people and vowed to be "harsh."
"I warned everybody not to force my hand into it," Duterte said. "I have to do it to preserve the republic."
Duterte also threatened to expand martial rule nationwide if conditions worsen.
"We are in a state of emergency," Duterte said Wednesday. "I have a serious problem in Mindanao and the ISIS footprints are everywhere."
"If I think that you should die, you will die," Duterte warned in declaring martial rule while noting that law-abiding citizens would be kept safe. "If you fight us, you will die. If there is open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it."
The Philippines president revealed that a local police chief who was stopped at a militant checkpoint was beheaded.
Villegas called for prayers for the abducted priest and his parishioners as the crisis unfolded.
"We beg every Filipino to pray fervently for Fr. Chito and for other hostages. As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration," he said.
"The CBCP is alarmed by reports that ISIS flags now flutter over Marawi. We are fully aware that most Muslims are peace-loving. Salam is a greeting of peace. We are also aware that ISIS has claimed responsibility for many of the atrocities in territories they have occupied elsewhere in the world," Villegas further noted. "... We call on the occupiers who claim to worship the same God that we all do not defile His name by bloodshed."