An Islamic extremist group linked to ISIS captured nine Christians, tied their hands together and shot them dead in a city in the Philippines, a disturbing new report has revealed.
According to the Mail Online, members of the militant so-called Maute group murdered the nine individuals by a check-point in Marawi City after they were identified as Christians. Disturbing images circulated by the media show the Christians lying dead face-down in the grass. Reports say villagers are too afraid to move the bodies because terrorists are still in the area.
News of the murders comes just days after the group took a Catholic priest captive along with other parishioners before setting on fire the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians in Marawi.
The militants took Father Teresito Suganob, together with the church's secretary, a professor, two working students and a number of parishioners and brought them to an undisclosed location.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged the government to make the safety of the hostages top priority.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo told ABS-CBN News: "I pray for the safety of all the hostages. I appeal to the consciences of the hostage takers not to harm the innocent as the Islamic faith teaches. I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influence the hostage takers to release the hostages unharmed.
"For God's will is the safety of innocent people. May the loving God protect the people of Marawi."
Several hours before the abduction, clashes broke out between the jihadist group and the military. The chaos began when the military launched a "surgical operation" on Tuesday afternoon to take out Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, who was being protected by the Maute group members in an apartment.
The fighting continued for hours as the militant group erected black flags markings allegiance to ISIS across the city. Thousands of citizens were forced to flee after the jihadists took over a government hospital, torched several buildings, and occupied various parts of Marawi. Residents said the militants called to the people from the streets and urged them to join ISIS.
"Some of them were knocking at our doors, some tried to get in but we locked our gates and doors," Amir Sumalih, a resident who lived near the hospital that the Maute seized, said. "They don't shoot civilians, they were yelling using a megaphone urging us to join ISIS and jihad."
Five soldiers and one policemen died in the clashes, while 13 gunmen were killed, according to the military.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao Island, which includes Marawi, in an attempt to restore order.
"I warned everybody not to force my hand into it," Duterte said, according to The National. "I have to do it to preserve the republic."