‘If they knew about Christians, all would be executed’: Muslim saves dozens from ISIS in Philippines

Fierce fighting between government forces and jihadist militants has spread to the streets of the southern island city of Marawi in the Philippines. Amid the ongoing offensive, locals of various religions have been helping each other survive and flee for their lives.

More than 160 people, nearly 50 children among them, were rescued from Marawi on Saturday, the army said. The city has become a key hot spot in the ongoing crackdown on terrorists, affiliated with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in the Western Pacific nation.

At least 20 civilians and 38 military died on Saturday, Reuters reported, citing officials, who added that some 120 terrorists had been killed.

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With parts of the Philippines now full-blown war zones, civilians have found themselves under threat of being caught in the crossfire. Mass evacuations are under way in battle zones such as Marawi, RT's Charlotte Dubenskij says, reporting from the city.

On Saturday, following an impromptu ceasefire to let civilians evacuate, fighter jets dropped bombs on the city center.

"We are afraid, sometimes helicopters fire at us, and the jihadists might kill us too," a local man told RT.

Among those who managed to escape this week is an Islamic writer and former politician, Noor Lucman. The Muslim man, who studied in Saudi Arabia with Osama bin Laden, told RT's Charlotte Dubenskij how he managed to cheat terrorists knocking at his door and save dozens of Christians.

There were some Christian workers doing repair work in the area a day before the fighting unfolded, he said. These people "couldn't leave the city, so I had to take responsibility in protecting them," he told reporters of their ordeal.

"The following days, other Christian workers took refuge in my house. There were about 64 of them in my hands and I was very determined that nothing happens to them," the man said, adding that the people he sheltered would only be revealed to terrorists "over [his] dead body."

"When ISIS came, they recognized me and they showed respect by just leaving when I told them to leave," he went on to say. "They didn't know I was hiding Christians. If they knew that there were Christians in my house, they would all be beheaded and executed."

As clashes between the military and the jihadists intensified in Marawi, with the army having admitted the fight is far harder than they've expected, Lucman "took an initiative to get the Christians out."

When heard that the military "planned to bomb the whole city if ISIS did not accede to the demands of the government," and also considering that he was running out of food, the Muslim man resolved to fleeing with the people at his mercy.

"I told myself that if I don't take these people out of the house, they would die of hunger, so we might just try and break through, no matter what. There were a lot of snipers along the way, and we had to hope against hope they would not ask those people if they were Christians or Muslims," Lucman said, explaining that the militants "ask you to recite a Muslim reading, and if you don't know it, they kill you."

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More than 2,000 civilians remain trapped in the southern Philippines city, besieged by some 250 Islamist militants, according to Reuters. There have been reports of an imminent military assault in the region, where Christians have been killed and taken hostage by the militants. The jihadist fighters represent a mix of local Islamist militants and those from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco, who joined the cause under the Islamic State banner, officials say.