The arrest of ISIL‘s Southeast Asia leader, Isnilon Hapilon, should have been a straightforward task for the Philippines forces, but the strength, preparedness and ferocity of the ISIL leader’s followers led to a five-month-long military offensive.
Fighting erupted on the streets of Marawi, a city situated on the southern island of Mindanao.
Gunmen burned buildings, including a Catholic church, the city jail and two schools before occupying the main streets and major bridges of the city. Churchgoers and residents were taken hostage and a police officer was beheaded.
It not only shocked the city’s residents and the nation but also sent panic through the region – ISIL had arrived in Southeast Asia and was looking to carve out a caliphate.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the entire island of Mindanao and predicted the battle would be over within weeks, but the armed fighters remained dug in – many willing to fight to the end.
Months of heavy combat between ISIL and government forces prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the city and left more than 1,000 dead.
Much had been reduced to rubble and smoking ruins and it’s estimated that it will take more than $1bn to rebuild Marawi.
But there are concerns about future attacks and warnings that ISIL fighters are gearing up for the next assault – as the group is trying to gain ground in Southeast Asia.