The three foreigners and a Filipina snatched from a resort in Samal Island last week may be in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Mohaqer Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said on Monday.
Iqbal, also the chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), said his group received intelligence reports that the four victims kidnapped in Davao Del Norte province have reached the bailiwick of the ASG in Indanan town on the island province of Sulu.
Iqbal’s revelation jibed with the statement of a police intelligence officer who told The Manila Times that the four captives that include two Norwegians and a Canadian may have been taken by the same ASG group that kidnapped German Stefan Viktor Ononek and Henrite Dielen in 2014.
“The responsible ASG sub leader behind last week’s abduction in Samal was identified to be Muamar Askali,” the source said.
Askali, who is based in Sulu, has been involved in several kidnapping cases, including the abduction of the two German yachters who were taken while sailing in Bataraza town in Palawan inn April 2014. Askali comes from Barangay Bunot in Indanan, Sulu.
Iqbal admitted that the MILF is “not 100 percent certain” that the four victims are being held by the ASG. However, he said intelligence reports coming from the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) team of the MILF under Abdul Dataya indicated that the victims are in the bailiwick of the ASG that has links to international terrorist organizations.
“So far, we haven’t received more detailed information on the situation of the victims aside from their probable whereabouts. We were told that the group stayed in Davao Oriental for three days before proceeding to Sulu,” he explained.
At the same time, he turned down proposals that the MILF helps government troops rescue the four victims. He explained that the group is only allowed to provide intelligence information such as the location and situation of the victims and their abductors.
“We already have a participation there through the Ahjag which has been closely monitoring the developments. However, none of our combatants can participate in the actual operations because it will violate the terms of reference,” Iqbal told the Times.
He said the ASG usually grows in number whenever it is holding hostages because of the huge ransom involved. He said kidnapping to the ASG is a “backyard industry” that has the support of local communities.
“It is hard to speak or deal with them because their language is money. They don’t respect even their fellow Muslims,” the MILF official said, referring to the kidnapping of TV journalist Abu Bakr Atyani in 2012. The journalist was freed eventually after reportedly paying a huge sum.
According to Iqbal, there is no “surefire” solution to the ASG problem because it is not a revolutionary organization and its motivation is only money.
“I thas no cause. But they have the support of the people in their communities, especially their relatives,” he pointed out.
WITH ANTHONY VARGAS