KIDAPAWAN CITY: Negotiations are underway for the safe release of six sawmill workers in Lanao del Sur who were abducted for “spying” for the government, officials from the military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said on Thursday.
An MILF official privy to the negotiations told The Manila Times that the abductors, believed to be jihadists, demanded the release of their unidentified comrade, who was captured during a military offensive in February, in exchange for the release of the hostages.
The hostage takers, calling themselves Dawlah Islamiyah or Islamic State (IS) in Lanao del Sur led by Abdullah Maute alias Abu Hassan, claimed responsibility for the Monday abduction.
It said they suspected that their hostages were spying for the Philippine government.
The hostages were taken at about 11 a.m. on Monday in a sawmill located at Purok 4, Barangay Sandab in Butig.
Marawi City-based Army 103rd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Roseller Murillo identified the victims, five of them surnamed Hanobas as – Tado, Buloy, Makol, Gabriel and Adones Hanobas, and a certain Isoy.
It was believed that the abducted workers have been residing in the area for years, since the time of the late Alim Abdulaziz Mimbantas, founding member of the MILF.
Authorities did not issue a statement on the development of the negotiations.
The IS group was driven away from their main camp in Butig during a 10-day military offensive in February.
The group later released over the Internet a video reaffirming their loyalty to the movement and named Abdullah Maute, alias Abu Hassan, as their leader in Lanao del Sur.
They were previously known as the Khilafah Islamiya Movement (KIM) that had staged atrocities in Mindanao.
In the video, authorities identified that Maute was with the leader of the KIM, Humam Abdul Najid, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Faris al-Mulathim, and other top leaders of the militants.