MANILA: 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 assaults to crush the brutal group, military officials said.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said troops were continuing operations to rescue foreign and local 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 mid-afternoon of Sunday if a ransom were not paid. The militants, who belong to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Hatib Sawadjaan, were demanding 30 million pesos ($605,000, Dh2.22 million), officials said.
There was no immediate indication whether the militants had pushed 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.”
The Abu Sayyaf is desperate for money and lacks encampments where they could hide their hostages because of continuing battle setbacks, including the killings of eight militants in a February 7 clash with troops in Sulu and the capture of two others in Tawi Tawi province, near Sulu, military officials said.
Kantner, who also was kidnapped by Somali pirates years ago, tearfully spoke about the militant threat and the Feb. 26 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 was made to wear an orange shirt.
Military officials have discouraged ransom payments to the Abu Sayyaf, saying the funds would be used by the militants to purchase new weapons and perpetuate kidnappings for ransom.
The Philippine military said in November that the 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.
The Abu Sayyaf, which the US and the Philippines have blacklisted as a terrorist organisation, is holding more than 20 mostly foreign captives and local 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 950 km south of Manila.