A highly trained, 100-man elite unit from the Special Operations Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was deployed to several key areas in Mindanao to flush out Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits holding 12 hostages including at least five foreigners.
AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang on Wednesday said the deployment was part of their preparations before a major offensive is launched against the ASG and other criminal groups operating in the region.
The elite unit will be placed under the control of the Army’s 501st Infantry Brigade based in Busbus, Jolo.
AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the troops will augment members of the Marines and Army stationed in Sulu as authorities stepped up their security operations in their bid to save the two German hostages and other kidnap victims.
The ASG earlier threatened to behead one of its two German hostages identified as Dr. Stefan Viktor Okonek, 74, and Henrike Dielen, 55, if their ransom demand of P250 million is not delivered on October 17.
“The day of warning will begin on October 10, 2014, we are going to tell you now about the ultimatum which will be on October 17, 2014 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and that you cannot see one of them alive,” Abu Rami, spokesman for the Al-Harakatul Islamiyah, said.
He explained that the October 10 deadline was just a premise of their warning to execute their captives, if the Philippine and German governments fail to heed their two demands.
Aside from the P250-million ransom, the ASG is also asking Germany to drop its support to air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) led by the United States.
But Cabunoc said the AFP maintains its earlier position not to negotiate with any terrorist group.
“The AFP is serious in its effort to flush out the bandits and contribute toward the eventual release of the victims from the hand of their captors,” he added.
Special forces units are adept in long-range reconnaissance, sniping and infiltration deep inside enemy territory.
The troop movement followed the recent K9 deployment in the South.
Earlier, Catapang ordered repositioning of the 501st Infantry Battalion and its attached units from Northern Luzon to Western Mindanao, to further strengthen the security position in Zamboanga Peninsula and Sulu where the ASG bandits are operating.
A battalion is composed of about 500 soldiers and a brigade, about 200.
The military estimates that there are fewer than 100 ASG members operating in Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula.
Also earlier, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin admitted that the military was having a hard time containing the kidnap-for-ransom group because of civilian support in its areas of operation.
“They [ASG bandits] were few but our problem is that they are being supported by civilians in the areas where they operate, whom they reciprocate by giving financial support through the money they raised from their kidnap for ransom activities” Gazmin said.