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 Ano, 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.” READ MORE