“The terrorists are bold, daring and unusually playful.”
This is how government forces as well as evacuees described many of the Islamic rebels who have besieged Marawi for a week now; prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law for 60 days in all of Mindanao and sending thousands of residents fleeing the city.
According to Inquirer, captive residents who managed to escape from the Maute group Monday, just before what they expected to be their impending execution, said they saw child fighters among their captors.
They also noted the presence of child warriors mixed in with the Maute Group.
Evacuees also disclosed to Inquirer that young Maute members are taking orders from commanders in their early 20s to force people to recite verses of the Islamic scripture, but when they fail, they would be shot dead to a chorus of laughter.
They said many of the terrorists they saw while fleeing to safety on Wednesday were younger than 20.
“They are just barely out of their teens. And they take orders from boys in their early to mid-20s,” said a certain Norma, a Maranao government worker in her 50s.
“That is why I addressed most of them as ‘orak’ (boy) when I talked with them while my family and I walked out of Marawi the day after the siege started,” she said.
Norma said that while Maranaos were the ones directly talking to evacuees, many of the militants appeared to be outsiders.
She recalled that when people tried to talk with them, they told them to talk to the Maranao militants and would respond in Tagalog. Some responded only with a nod when offered the traditional Muslim greeting.
Norma said they also saw some 10 tall and stocky bearded men “na mga mapuputi at may matangos na ilong” (who are fair-skinned and had pointed noses).
Most of the young militants are handsome and fair complexioned “indicating they are not toiling under the sun, which could mean they come from economically well-off families.”
Norma said that on Wednesday, at the height of the siege, a group of boys belonging to “the blacks”— a reference to the black IS banner — looted a convenience store.
As the younger gunmen hauled the goods, the older ones sat lazily on the bench and the sofa, downing bottles of cold drinks and carrying out what sounded like an aimless conversation, Norma said.
She said several other boys laughed at her when she ducked after hearing distant gunfire as she and her family were asking them for a safe way out of the city.
“It’s as if they were only playing,” she added.
“May maliliit du’n, may maliliit pa [There were children there],” said Ronnel; a freed hostage.
“They couldn’t be older than 10 years old up to 16 years old,” he said. “They were so fired up. Some of them were guarding us and there was no look of mercy on their faces.”
One of the child warriors, who brandished a “baby Armalite”, carried out the task of taking pictures of the beheading of one of the hostages, Samiehan and his companions disclosed.
Samiehan’s group originally had 12 men; all of them captured as they tried to flee on the first day of the fighting, on May 23.
They lost one of their companions, who was beheaded by the Maute group.
This, they said, helped to make up their mind to escape when they found the chance to do so.
When a helicopter gunship hovered near the building where they were being kept, the gunmen watching them rushed to take up defensive positions on the second floor.
Ronnel’s group, desperate and sensing this was their do-or-die opportunity to escape, managed to slip out the gate of the building, but another of their companions drowned while they were crossing a fast-flowing creek.
“He was too weak to make it across. He got carried downstream. It’s so sad.”
They said there are around 40 more persons being held hostage by the Maute group, including teachers, nurses and a Catholic priest.