Philippine police go on nationwide alert

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Philippine security forces hunting one of the world's most-wanted militants were battling gunmen in a southern city on Tuesday, authorities said.

Around 50 armed gunmen with the ISIS-linked Maute Group stormed the Marawi City Jail, bound the guards, freed the prisoners, and torched the prison.

The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday asked for prayers after Maute terrorists took hostage a priest and some parishioners in Marawi City.

Two soldiers and a policeman were killed and 12 wounded amid chaos in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, where members of the Maute militant group took control of buildings and set fire to a school, a church and a detention facility.

Villegas says the gunmen are demanding the government recall its forces.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that as of 10 p.m. local time, Duterte had declared martial law for all of Mindanao, the southern island that has both Marawi City and Davao - the president's home city - reside.

Abella made the announcement in a press conference in Moscow, saying the President made the decision after meeting his group of advisers in Russian Federation to discuss the situation in Marawi City. He was furious that militants had hoisted the Islamic State flag in Marawi.

General Eduardo Ano, the military chief of staff, said at least one police officer was killed and eight soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

State media similarly quoted the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as saying the implementation of martial law would be done in accordance with existing laws and respect for human rights.

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Duterte declared martial rule for 60 days in the entire Mindanao region, the restive southern third of the Philippine archipelago.

Villegas used the #PrayforMarawi and "begged" all Filipinos to "pray fervently for Fr. Chito and for other hostages".

The Maute group was formed by the Maute family led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Duterte who along with Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were on an official trip to Moscow on Tuesday cut short his visit to head back to the Philippines.

The Philippines has long fought a simmering insurgency in Mindanao, but it has signed peace deals with some of the main militant groups and contained others.

Gandamra noted that the military had started operations against the terror group in some parts of Lanao del Sur, particularly in municipalities where there is reported presence of the group.

Based in Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province which includes Marawi, the Maute surfaced around 2013 with a bombing of a nightclub in Cagayan de Oro, a mainly Christian city in a neighbouring province, which killed six people.

Troops found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms and passports of suspected Indonesian militants in the camp.

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