ISIS Flag Flies in the Philippines, Asia’s Most Christian Country

Image: Jes Aznar / Getty Images

The violence, instability, and Christian persecution that ISIS has brought to the Middle East is making its way to a besieged island in the Philippines.

More than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more taken hostage in the span of a week on the island of Mindanao, home to a Muslim minority in the majority-Catholic archipelago. Insurgents have targeted Christians and those who cannot prove themselves to be fellow Muslims. Experts believe the Islamic State is poised to create a caliphate in Southeast Asia, including this island in particular.

After the national army launched an air strike last week to flush out fighters hiding on the island, a priest being held hostage by Islamist militants in the city of Marawi appeared in a video, pleading for Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to “consider” hostages’ lives and stop bombing the city. A spokesman for the army dismissed the video, which was released Tuesday and circulated via social media, as “propaganda.”

Teresito (Chito) Suganob says in the video that he is 1 of about 200 people—including professors, teachers, church workers, and children—being held hostage by the Islamists who stormed the city last week, setting fire to buildings including a cathedral and Christian college.

The militants later killed nine Christians at a checkpoint; local residents identified the victims as Christians and said they had been pulled from a truck, had their hands bound, and then their bodies riddled with bullets and left in a field.

Reports continue to emerge of Christians being specifically targeted, forced to recite Muslim prayers and used as human shields. Edwin de la Peña, bishop of Marawi, told Catholic news agency Fides that he was “happy” Suganob was alive but “afraid of the fate of the hostages—about 200 civilians in all—now used as human shields.” Suganob said that his captors are “ready to die for their religion.”

AsiaNews reports that the captured priest—a chaplain at the state university—is well known as a leader in interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He and the others “have been chosen because they belong to the city’s minorities,” the Catholic outlet reported.

There have also been reports of acts of solidarity from Muslims towards Christians, with Muslims reportedly giving Christians hijabs, hiding them in their homes, and teaching them Muslim prayers.

The Philippine region of Mindanao is home to the Maute group, which stems from a violent Islamist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front, which sought independence for decades in hopes of creating an independent Islamic state.

“On the ground, the people are asking for prayers,” a local source told World Watch Monitor. “The residents are threatened. They say homes are being trespassed, and that women not in hijabs are being taken away. The black flags are perched on top of a police car and a hospital. Social media screams with pleas for help, screenshots of texts of relatives on lockdown. One post says people must recite the shahada [Islamic profession of faith] when asked, else be killed.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Kate Shellnutt and World Watch Monitor

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