A Catholic priest and another civilian who were among several abducted in May by Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern Philippines have been rescued, according to reports.
Father Teresito Soganub, who is an ambassador to the Vatican and advocate for peace, and a teacher were rescued by Philippine troops late Saturday during a battle to recapture a key mosque and another Islamic building that militants used as a command center in Marawi city, according to La Croix.
"He (the priest) was rescued by our men on the ground," said Jesus Dureza, a senior presidential adviser, according to The New York Time. However, the commander of naval forces in the southern region, Rear Admiral Rene Medina, said the priest escaped with the other civilian during the heavy fighting and the military later picked them up and brought them to a safer place.
More than 660 militants and 147 troops and police have been killed since the siege began in Marawi, a city of 200,000 on the island of Mindanao seen as a center of Islamic faith in the largely Catholic country. In May, about 200 people, many of them Christian, were taken as hostages in the city as hundreds of militants seized commercial buildings, mosques and houses, the priest said in a video that appeared after his abduction in May.
"Mr. President, we are in the midst of this war. We are asking for your help to please give what they are asking for. To withdraw forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City, and to stop the air attacks, and to stop the cannons," the priest said in that video. "They do not ask for anything, Mr. President. For all we know this is their place. They are ready to die for their religion."
Due to the fighting that has carried on since the city's siege, hundreds of thousands of residents have fled to refugee camps. The entire island of Mindanao was placed under military rule after the siege. According to the military estimates, less than 60 rebels remain.
Christians and other civilians trapped have been tortured and used as sex slaves and human shields by a terrorist group associated with Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Troops have also reported finding decapitated bodies on the streets.
The Catholic Online reported recently 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, according to survivors who escaped earlier.
The United States government has been supporting the Philippines for counterterror efforts in Mindanao.