'Friendly fire' kills 11 soldiers in the Philippines

Government forces are using helicopters to attack pockets of Marawi city where officials say 89 Islamist militants have been killed but remaining gunmen are putting up strong resistance and holding hostages

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday the fighters from various militant groups that gathered in Marawi had a big plan to take over the city.

Initially, he said 10 soldiers died but later national military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla later confirmed that 11 soldiers were killed.

Eleven soldiers were killed and seven others injured in what the Philippines government has described as a "friendly fire incident" in Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao.

He added, "It is sad but sometimes that happens, sometimes in the tug of war".

Lorenzana said militants who were Saudi, Malaysian, Indonesian, Yemeni and Chechen were among eight foreigners killed in the fighting, in what experts say is a sign the Philippines may have a major problem on its hands.

Fighters from the pro-Islamic State Maute group are clinging to the heart of the city, threatening to kill hostages, despite air and ground attacks by security forces for an eighth day.

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The Filipino military has said foreign terrorists have been in the country for a long time to help train local militants in skills such as bomb-making.

The air force airstrike came as government forces tried to clear Islamic extremists from Marawi, after around 500 laid siege to the southern city for a week.

Fighting between government forces and the militants erupted on May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines, and poured in troops backed by airstrikes to push the attackers out of the city.

Asked if they are members of the global terror group ISIS, Lorenzana said, "I believe so".

"One of our SF-260 aircraft conducting airstrike (when) the last ordnance round it (fired) went wayward for an unknown reason and accidentally hit and caused the lives of our ground forces", Padilla said.

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The Philippines military has since been using armed forces and helicopter airstrikes to try and drive the militants out.

Suganob, who is vicar general of Marawi, asks Duterte "to stop the airstrikes, and to stop the cannons", according to an article published by Catholic News Agency on Tuesday.

The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group's violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country's restive southern islands, where Muslim separatist rebellions have raged for almost half a century. He said that militant leader Isnilon Hapilon is believed to be still in Marawi.

Fox reported that at least 100 people have been killed in the fighting over the city since last week, with many civilians among the casualties.

"This is what our religion Islam tells us, please, release him now, immediately", he said on television. "I will not talk to anybody", he said on Wednesday.

Speaking on behalf of the hostages, he says, "please consider us", adding, "it's hard" to bear the gunfire and cannons going off around them.

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