Muslims Fleeing Jihadist Violence Shield Christians in Daring Escape from Marawi
In the early morning hours of Saturday, some 160 civilians waving white flags and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” slowly walked to safety past armed extremist checkpoints in the besieged southern Philippines city of Marawi.
Muslim civilians in the group, made up mostly of women, children and the elderly, hid among them their Christian neighbors at risk of being gunned down by local jihadists aligned with the violent Islamic fundamentalist Daesh faction.
"We saved ourselves," said popular community leader and former politician Norodin Alonto Lucman, Pakistan's Dawn news agency reports.
The daring escape was initiated after text messages were received by Marawi locals warning of an imminent ground and air assault on the area by the Philippines army.
"There's this plan to bomb the whole city if [Daesh] doesn't agree to the demands of the government," Lucman added.
"We had a tip from the general commander that we should go out," stated resident Leny Paccon, who had been hiding 54 people in her home, including 44 Christians, according to Dawn.
"When I got the text, immediately we go out… about 7 o'clock," she affirmed. She joined Lucman and his group in their desperate flight to escape the killings.
"As we walked, others joined us," Lucman said. "We had to pass through a lot of snipers."
According to Reuters, when extremists stopped the civilians to look for Christians, as related by construction worker Jaime Daligdig, "We shouted 'Allahu akbar.'"
The civilians were allowed to pass.
Other escaped Marawi residents have described militants from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf factions, which joined forces to attempt to take over the city, as looking for Christians to hold hostage.
Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena told The Guardian that a local Muslim leader who had hidden Christians in his rice mill provided a few quick lessons in Islam.
"He was giving them an orientation," de la Peña said. "How to respond to questions, to recite prayers, to wear their veils, how to say assalamu alaikum [peace be upon you]."
The coached Christians made it past the fundamentalist checkpoints, but the bishop reported that others who were found to be Christian were executed.
Lucman described devastation in Marawi's town center, and asserted that many of those trapped inside the extremists' perimeter were starving, providing them with additional motivation to flee.
Civilians have reportedly been killed and taken hostage, and the militants have been looking for young men to recruit as fighters.
Philippine army and government estimates on Saturday claimed that 120 militants, 38 members of government forces, and 20 civilians had been killed in the fighting, according to Dawn.
Bombing, including of the city center, and ground fighting continued throughout Saturday.
Most Filipinos are Christian, but the southern regions of Mindanao have a large proportion of Muslims, and Islam is the majority religion in Marawi City.
Philippine army forces are battling Daesh-allied extremists in Marawi, a city of some 200,000, about 500 miles south of Manila.
More than 100,000 have been displaced by the ongoing fighting, and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the Mindanao under martial law.