A new video has been released showing ISIS militants in the Philippines threatening to come to Rome as they desecrate a Catholic church. Filmed in the Philippine city of Marawi, the video shows militants shooting and setting fires within a church, as they destroy a crucifix and statues of Mary and St. Joseph.
One jihadist tears up photos of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI while saying, “Remember this, you kuffar [non-Muslims] – we will be in Rome, we will be in Rome, inshallah [god willing].” Over the footage, another narrator can be heard saying “after all their efforts, it would be the religion of the cross that would be broken. The crusaders’ enmity toward the Muslims only served to embolden a generation of youth.”
The video, distributed by the pro-ISIS media organization, Al Hayat, also contains graphic footage of fighting in the besieged Philippine city, including dead Philippine soldiers and militants shooting AK-47s as a narrator encourages Muslims in East Asia to come to the city “to perform jihad.”
Since May 23, militants of the Maute group, which formed in 2012 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015, have been fighting against government forces for control of the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao. Violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. The initial attack launched by Maute burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.
The majority of the city’s 200,000 people – mostly Muslim – have fled since its occupation. At least 400 people have been killed in the fighting as of mid-July, though numbers haven't been updated since. On Aug. 24, government forces recaptured the city's Grand Mosque, where it had been believed that as many as 40 civilian hostages were being held by militants, though no militants or hostages were found. Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a briefing that the retaking of the Grand Mosque, located in the central area of Marawi, was “a significant development,” despite recovering no hostages.
The government has said some of the militants fighting in Marawi appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. However, Officials say there are also indications that other slain militants have come from the Middle East. The fighting has fueled fears that the Islamic State is attempting to set up a regional base in Southeast Asia.