* Bodies found shot in head, hands tied
* "Traitor" sign left with bodies
* Military says investigating reports of more "atrocities"
* Rebels resist rockets, artillery assault
* Duterte cancels Japan trip
(Updates death toll, adds details throughout)
By Tom Allard
MARAWI CITY, Philippines, May 28 Bodies of what
appeared to be executed civilians were found in a ravine outside
a besieged Philippine city on Sunday as a six-day occupation by
Islamist rebels fending off a military onslaught took a more
The eight dead, most of them shot in the head and some with
hands tied behind their backs, were labourers who were stopped
by Islamic State-linked militants on the outskirts of Marawi
City while trying to flee clashes, according to police.
Nine spent bullet casings were found on a blood-stained
patch of road at the top of the ravine. Attached to one of the
bodies was a sign that said "Munafik" (traitor).
The discovery confirms days of speculation that Maute rebels
had killed civilians during a takeover of Marawi, that the
military believes is aimed at winning the Maute recognition from
the Islamic State as a Southeast Asian affiliate.
The fierce resistance of the Maute gunmen and the apparent
executions of civilians will add to growing fears that
subscribers to Islamic State's radical ideology are determined
to establish a presence in the southern Philippines, with the
support of extremists from Indonesia and Malaysia.
The army deployed more ground troops over the weekend and
dispatched army and air force helicopters to carry out rocket
strikes on Maute positions as fighters held buildings and a
bridge deep inside a predominantly Muslim city where few
Some of those trapped in Marawi had called and text-messaged
a hotline pleading with the military to stop the air strikes,
according to Zia Alonto Adiong, a local politician coordinating
complex efforts to evacuate civilians, dead and alive.
"Some have no food at all. Some fear for their lives," he
"This is a conflict that has gone beyond proportion. The
magnitude of the degree of the damage and the people that are
affected ... it's really massive."
At least 61 militants were killed and 15 security forces as
of Saturday, according to the army, which said it could confirm
nine civilians killed by militants.
At the ravine where the bodies were found, Marawi police
officer Jamail C Mangadang said the victims were carpenters who
were part of an evacuation convoy stopped by rebels late on
Recalling information provided by their manager, Mangadang
said the victims were pulled off a truck because they were
unable to cite verses of the Koran, the Islamic holy text.
The military said it was possible there were others victims.
"This development validates a series of reports of
atrocities committed by the militants earlier," said military
spokesman, Restituto Padilla.
"We are still validating other reports of atrocities."
Islamic State's Amaq news agency last week claimed
responsibility for the Maute's brazen siege. Unverified
statements claiming to be from the extremists have appeared
online, declaring the city of 200,000 people the "Islamic City
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday cancelled a trip to
Japan to address the unrest in Mindanao, an island of 22 million
people where martial law has been declared. Police on Sunday
outlawed guns there and suspended all weapons permits.
Fierce battles took place on Sunday as ground troops engaged
Maute fighters with heavy gunfire and artillery. Plumes of smoke
were seen on the horizon and helicopters unloaded rockets on
A surveillance drone circled the sky above Marawi. Some
civilians tied white cloths to poles to distinguish themselves
from militants as soldiers on foot huddled behind armoured
vehicles that crawled along deserted streets.
Tens of thousands of people have fled Marawi since Tuesday,
when militants went on the rampage seizing a school, a hospital,
and a cathedral, where Christians were taken hostage, according
to church leaders. Scores of prisoners, among them militants,
were freed when rebels took over two detention facilities.
The violence erupted in response to a failed attempt by
security forces to capture Isnilon Hapilon, who the government
believes is Islamic State's point-man in the Philippines.
The military is certain the Maute are protecting Hapilon and
had narrowed down his location. Hapilon leads a radical faction
of another Mindanao-based group, the Abu Sayyaf.
The little-known Maute group has staged several days-long
sieges on Mindanao island but none on the scale of Marawi, where
witnesses said flags resembling those of Islamic State had been
flown and some gunmen wore black headbands.
The Maute group was blamed for last year's bombing in the
president's home city, Davao, which killed 14 people, and its
battlefield capability has been a serious challenge to a
military that has far larger numbers and firepower.
Another concern for the government was the discovery of
Indonesian and Malaysian fighters with the Maute, which it said
showed a domestic rebellion had expanded to become a far greater
threat, driven by radical ideology.
(Reporting by Tom Allard; Additional reporting by Erik De
Castro in MARAWI and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Writing by Martin
Petty; Editing by Michael Perry)