Manila: The founder of a former secessionist Filipino-Muslim rebel group called for a halt to military operations as he coordinated with a local Filipino-Muslim terror group for the safe release of three foreigners and a Filipina national who were abducted from an upscale resort in southern Philippines last week, sources said.
Nur Misuari, founder of the 45-year old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) asked the military not to intensity operations in Parang, Sulu so that the MNLF members would not be caught in the crossfire as they gain access to the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has taken custody of Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norweigian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Marites Flor who were kidnapped from Ocean View Resort on Samal island, Davao del Norte last week, a source who requested for anonymity told Gulf News.
Misuari was concerned about the safety of the hostages and residents who live near the forested hideaway of the Abu Sayyaf Group, the source said.
Although the military has refused to confirm reports that the Abu Sayyaf Group was behind the one-week old hostage-taking, Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Sulu’s joint task group said the operation will help authorities get the hostages from their abductors.
The military operation will focus on the Abu Sayyaf Group, not on the negotiators, Arrojado said.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and former cabinet secretary Jess Dureza were the ones who persuaded Misuari to help the government resolve the hostage-crisis, said the same source, adding that Misuari accepted the challenge, convened a meeting and assigned men to reach out to the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group who took custody of the kidnap-victims in Sulu last Sunday.
Assessing Misuari’s capability, MNLF Islamic Command Council (ICC) head Habib Nudjahad Hashim whose group is allied with Misuari’s MNLF faction, told a TV network the MNLF founder could “negotiate for the safe release of the kidnap-victims”.
“He has influence in Sulu,” said Hashim, adding that Misuari has “listened to the request” of Duterte and Dureza.
Families of the kidnap victims and local authorities claimed they have not yet received ransom demands from the Abu Sayyaf Group.
It is not known if emissaries of President Benigno Aquino asked Duterte and Dureza to reach out to Misuari.
Earlier, Aquino’s Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said, “The administration accepts any assistance offered by organisations or by individuals to solve this crime.”
Misuari has been in hiding in Sulu since he was implicated as the mastermind of the 20-day siege of southern Zamboanga City in which hundreds were killed and displaced in late 2013.
His allies wanted Aquino to grant Misuari amnesty so that he could go to Saudi Arabia for the tripartite review by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Philippine government, and the MNLF of the implementation of two political settlements forged by the MNLF and the Philippine government in Libya in 1976, and in Manila in 1996.
The Abu Sayyaf Group has been blamed for high-profile kidnap-for-ransom activities that targeted foreign tourists and missionaries as well as local residents. It is also accused of undertaking bombing and other terror attacks in the south. It has links with Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian conduit of Al Qaida.