Mil­i­tants’ ran­som cut­off passes; fight goes on

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JIM GOMEZ

MANILA, Philip­pines — Philip­pine troops will not get dis­tracted by a threat from Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants to be­head a Ger­man hostage if a ran­som was not paid by Sun­day and will press for­ward with as­saults to crush the group, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

Mil­i­tary spokesman Brig. Gen. Resti­tuto Padilla said troops were con­tin­u­ing op­er­a­tions to res­cue for­eign and Philip­pine hostages, in­clud­ing Ger­man cap­tive Jur­gen Gus­tav Kant­ner, who is be­lieved to be held by the mil­i­tants in the jun­gles of south­ern Sulu prov­ince.

In a video that cir­cu­lated on­line ear­lier this month, Kant­ner said the mil­i­tants would be­head him by midafter­noon Sun­day if a ran­som were not paid. The mil­i­tants, who be­long to an Abu Sayyaf fac­tion led by Hatib Sawad­jaan, were de­mand­ing $605,000, of­fi­cials said.

There was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion whether the mil­i­tants had gone through with their threat to kill Kant­ner de­spite a last-minute ap­peal by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s ad­viser, Je­sus Dureza, urg­ing them to spare the hostage.

“Dead­line or no dead­line, troops are ex­ert­ing all ef­fort and means in or­der to go af­ter the ter­ror­ist group Abu Sayyaf and to res­cue all kid­nap vic­tims,” the mil­i­tary com­mand in charge of the Sulu re­gion said in a state­ment.

“The armed forces will pur­sue the en­emy and dic­tate the terms, not the other way around,” Padilla said. “We will not be cowed by the de­mands of evil in­di­vid­u­als and groups who con­tinue to per­pet­u­ate prac­tices con­trary to Is­lam.”

Abu Sayyaf is des­per­ate for money and lacks en­camp­ments where it could hide its hostages be­cause of con­tin­u­ing bat­tle set­backs, in­clud­ing the killings of eight mil­i­tants in a Feb. 7 clash with troops in Sulu and the cap­ture of two oth­ers in nearby Tawi-Tawi prov­ince, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

Kant­ner, who also was kid­napped by So­mali pi­rates years ago, tear­fully spoke about the mil­i­tant threat and the Sun­day ran­som dead­line in a video cir­cu­lated by the SITE In­tel­li­gence Group, which mon­i­tors ji­hadi web­sites.

In the two-minute video, Kant­ner sits in front of four masked gun­men, in­clud­ing one aim­ing what ap­pears to be a sickle at him, as he speaks in Ger­man in a clear­ing with thick fo­liage in the back­ground. He sports a beard and an orange shirt.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have dis­cour­aged ran­som pay­ments to Abu Sayyaf, say­ing the funds would be used by the mil­i­tants to pur­chase new weapons and would per­pet­u­ate kid­nap­pings for ran­som.

The Philip­pine mil­i­tary said in Novem­ber that Abu Sayyaf claimed its gun­men had kid­napped Kant­ner and killed a wo­man sail­ing with him off neigh­bor­ing Malaysia’s Sabah state.

Vil­lagers re­ported find­ing a dead wo­man ly­ing be­side a shot­gun on board a light blue yacht with the Ger­man flag and marked “Rock­all” off La­paran Is­land in Sulu, the mil­i­tary said. The pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim prov­ince is where ran­som-seek­ing mil­i­tants have held many hostages in jun­gle en­camp­ments.

Troops later took the wo­man’s body and the yacht, the mil­i­tary said.

Abu Sayyaf, which the U.S. and the Philip­pines have black­listed as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, is hold­ing more than 20 mostly for­eign cap­tives and Philip­pine hostages.

Abu Sayyaf and al­lied gun­men have com­mit­ted many at­tacks at sea de­spite ef­forts by the Philip­pines, Malaysia and In­done­sia to jointly shore up se­cu­rity along their busy sea bor­der.

Last year, Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants be­headed two Cana­dian men af­ter sep­a­rate ran­som dead­lines lapsed, prompt­ing the mil­i­tary to be­gin an of­fen­sive against the mil­i­tants in Sulu, about 590 miles south of Manila.

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