Marawi is the gateway to Lanao del Sur, a component province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Philstar.com/John Unson, file

Bishop: Maute burned Marawi cathedral, abducted priest
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) - May 24, 2017 - 3:40am

MANILA, Philippines — A group inspired by the so-called Islamic State took hostage of a priest, church staff and churchgoers after burning the cathedral in Marawi City, Bishop Edwin dela Peña said Wednesday.

Dela Peña, Bishop-prelate of Marawi City, said the Maute Group torched Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians in the city on the same day the diocese was supposed to be celebrating the feast of its patron saint.

"Kinuha nila 'yung aming pari, saka 'yung aming secretary, 'yung dalawang working student tapos parokyano namin na nag-novena lang kahapon," Dela Peña said in an interview with radio dzBB.

The bishop identified the priest as Fr. Teresito Suganob, vicar general of the prelature of Marawi.

"They were taken hostage, dinala to an undisclosed location," the bishop said, adding that they have not heard from the hostages since the incident.

The bishop, however, did not have information on the exact number of hostages taken by the local terror group.

The police have been informed of the hostage-taking incident, according to Dela Peña.

In a statement, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed that Suganob and others have been taken as hostages.

"Father Chito Suganob and others were in the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians when members of the Maute fighting group forced their way into the Cathedral, taking with them Fr. Chito and others as hostages. They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled," CBCP President Socrates Villegas said.

Conflicting statements

On the other hand, Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra did not confirm reports that the terror group took hostages and insisted that the local government has the situation under control.

In a telephone interview with ANC, Gandamra said that he is coordinating with the military and the police to stabilize peace and order in the community.

The mayor claimed that the attack in his city is only a tactic of the Maute Group to divert the attention of the government.

"One of their diversionary tactics is pasukin ang Marawi City at dito ma-focus 'yung focus ng kasundaluhan at Philippine National Police," Gandamra said.

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.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial rule in Mindanao after clashes between government troops and the terror group in Marawi City.

LIVE updates: Martial Law in Mindanao

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