By Jim Gomez
MARAWI, Philippines (UPDATE 1 10:49 a.m.) — Inside this lakeside city dotted with hundreds of mosques, a powerful militant designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in the Philippines has managed to unify a disparate group of gunmen under a single command.
Over the past week, his fighters have shown their muscle, withstanding a sustained assault by the Philippine military and increasing fears that the Islamic State group's violent ideology is gaining a foothold in this country's restive southern islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.
The Army insists the drawn-out fight is not a true sign of the militants' strength, and that the military has held back to spare civilians' lives.
"They are weak," Gen. Eduardo Año, the military chief of staff, said of the gunmen, speaking at a hospital where injured soldiers were being treated. "It's just a matter of time for us to clear them from all their hiding places."
As of Tuesday morning, he said the military working house-by-house had cleared 70 percent of the city and the remaining militants were isolated.
Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient.
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