Gunmen take priest, churchgoers hostage in Philippines, vow to kill captives

Gunmen take priest, churchgoers hostage in Philippines, vow to kill captives
Militants stormed a cathedral in the Philippines, taking a priest and several parishioners hostage and are vowing to kill the captives “if government forces unleashed against them are not recalled,” according to the Roman Catholic Church.

READ MORE: Philippines crisis: Duterte declares martial law on Mindanao in face of ISIS-linked onslaught

The hostages were taken from a cathedral in Marawi city on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said on Wednesday.

“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 Father Chito and others as hostages,” a statement on the official website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said.

Maute is an Islamist group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

President Rodrigo Duterte has called the situation a "state of emergency," noting that skirmishes with militants are still taking place, AP reported.

Speaking at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Duterte went on to state that he may expand the declaration of martial law to the Visayas region, which is very close to Mindanao.

"With many islands, they can escape there," he said, as quoted by the Philippines' SunStar newspaper.

Duterte recently put the island of Mindanao under martial law, ordered in special forces, and cut his state visit to Russia short, after militants affiliated with Islamic State began vying for control of the city of Marawi.

The gunmen captured the Reverend Chito Suganob and more than a dozen parishioners and staff members, Villegas said. According to the Archbishop, the gunmen vowed to kill the captives “if government forces unleashed against them are not recalled.”

The archbishop said that Father Chito “was in the performance of his ministry as a priest” at the time of his capture.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to no one. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict,” he said.