MARAWI CITY, Philippines — Filipino leaders feared the worst when a deranged gunman took over a popular hotel near the airport in Manila Thursday. The big concern: that the Islamic terrorist rampage in one part of the Philippines was spilling over to the capital.
The shooter did cause some terrifying destruction, starting a fire that killed at least 36 people. But police say he didn't shoot anyone and tried to steal $2 million before he killed himself, which leads them to believe it wasn't Islamic terrorism.
It comes as Philippine government troops have been intensifying their battle against ISIS-linked rebels in the city of Marawi in Mindanao.
The Philippine military is waging an all-out war against the Maute group of terrorists that claim allegiance to ISIS. Security forces are trying to liberate the besieged city of Marawi from the terrorists by launching surgical air strikes.
Tragically, 10 soldiers were killed recently when an army plane accidentally bombed Philippine troops. The soldiers were positioned close to where the terrorists were holed up.
CBN News is on the scene, close enough to hear sporadic gunfire and bombs from air strikes that have turned this village into a ghost town. This area is a part of the 85 percent of Marawi City that is now under the control of government troops.
Troops continue to advance in fighting the Maute terrorists, but their main concern is the safety of trapped residents and hostages, especially women and children who are being used by the terrorists as human shields.
"The mandate of your troops on the ground is to neutralize and destroy the remaining local terrorist groups, and be able to rescue the trapped civilians in the hostile area," said Philippine military spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera.
Since the beginning of this war against the Islamic extremists on May 23, the number of internally displaced persons has risen to 200,000, which is two-thirds of Marawi City’s population.
That number may rise even higher because government officials say other lawless elements, like the Abu Sayyaf and other foreign terrorists, are now helping the Maute group.
Meanwhile, evacuees are now suffering the brunt of the Marawi crisis. Leilani is one of them. She told CBN News many people feared getting caught in the crossfire, so they left their homes and all their belongings in order to save their lives.
"We were so scared, especially for the safety of my baby. And so on the second day, we hired a jeepney to be able to escape from the crossfire. We feel safe now, but we are also struggling because our resources are gone," Leilani said.
Despite the danger, Operation Blessing Philippines is giving help to the war victims who are mostly Muslims. And since it’s Ramadan, the organization is providing meals for them after their fast. They’re also providing slippers, toys for the children, and much-needed stress counseling.
Much time may pass before this conflict ends, and Operation Blessing Philippines is prepared to provide more disaster relief in the coming days, bringing hope to the desperate residents of Marawi.