Abu Sayyaf demands P4-B ransom; govt sticks to ‘no negotiation’ policy
ZAMBOANGA CITY: Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits have threatened to execute all four of their hostages--two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman--if their demand for a $100-million (roughly $4.6 billion) ransom is not met.
In a video obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group on Tuesday, the rebels showed off their terrified hostages--Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall and his Filipino girlfriend Maritess Flor; and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad. No deadline was provided in the video for the payment of the money.
The four were kidnapped on September 21 from the upscale Holiday Oceanview Resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte and were brought by boat to Sulu, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
Ridsdel spoke in the 90-second clip and has appealed to the Canadian government to pay the ransom to save their lives.
“We’re being ransomed each for one billion pesos. I appeal to the Canadian prime minister and the people of Canada, please pay this ransom as soon as possible or our lives are in great danger,” he said as his captor held a bolo across his neck.
Hall also begged for his life and made a similar appeal.
“I am a Canadian citizen. I am being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf for one billion pesos. These people are serious and very treacherous. Take them seriously. Help us, get us out of here,” he said.
Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, Holiday Oceanview Resort manager, said: “I’m okay for now. I’m hostaged for one billion pesos. Please, please pay this group. Take them seriously because they are dangerous, they are serious in their demands.”
The fourth hostage, Marites Flor, Hall’s girlfriend, did not speak.
It was not clear when and where the video was shot although a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was shown.
The SITE Intelligence Group also posted pictures of the hostages and their masked captors standing behind them.
The non-profit organization Terror Monitor also posted images grabbed from the video that showed the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) displayed in the background as the rebels chanted “Allahu Akbar” or God is great.
One of 10 bandits shown in the picture did not cover his face, but is partly hidden behind the flag. The bandits also displayed their weapons, including a heavy machine gun and a 90mm recoilless rifle.
The Canadian newspaper National Post quoted Zachary Abuza, a professor at Canada’s National War College and an expert on Southeast Asian politics and security, as saying “there was no evidence Abu Sayyaf was truly affiliated with ISIL. Rather, they are a gang that uses the imagery of terrorism to profit from kidnapping.”
“I think these guys are common thugs, there’s nothing Islamist about it,” Abuza said.
Abu Sayyaf’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIL was nothing more than an attempt to gain international media attention and “raise the ante,” he added.
Abuza said he believes the Abu Sayyaf has been watching ISIL videos in order to mimic them. “They’ve been online, they’ve seen things, they’ve stepped up their game.”
The report said while the video had the look of one by ISIL, the demands were tellingly focused solely on money rather than Western foreign policy or military deployments.
The hostages will be an early challenge for incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet appointees in the public safety and foreign affairs portfolios.
The Independent Strategy and Intelligence Study Group, citing unnamed sources in the Philippines’ National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), claimed that one of the Canadian hostages contacted the Canadian Embassy in Manila to give proof of life and to inform his country’s ambassador that all of the hostages are alive.
It said the Abu Sayyaf-Tanum Group has informed the Canadian government that they will start beheading the hostages if the Philippine military does not cease their combat operations on Sulu--specifically mentioning the ongoing artillery barrages occurring near their positions.
“The threat is a hollow one for the simple fact that ASG-Tanum Group wants to get paid. The reason why they issued the threat is [that] they know Canada is a weak nation that will cave in to their demands. With that in mind, [the Abu Sayyaf bandits are] banking on the Canadian government responding by pressuring the Government of the Philippines into ceasing military operations in Sulu,” said an analyst from the Independent Strategy and Intelligence Study Group.
The Philippine military declined to comment on the Abu Sayyaf demand and its threat to kill the hostages.
“The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] has made a decision not to comment,” military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said.
Padilla added that the move was made “in order not to dignify the latest development.”
Malacanang on Wednesday maintained that the government will not negotiate with the bandits.
“One, the policy of the government does not change, that we do not negotiate in instances like this; and second, the tracking, the search and rescue operations are still ongoing as we speak,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte told reporters.
“To us, the ransom does not have an impact at least because we don’t negotiate,” she added.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said it agrees with the government’s stand that ransom should not be paid.
“The PNP adheres to the no-ransom policy of the government,” the organization’s
spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, said.
Mayor added that the video is being authenticated by the police Anti-Cybercrime Group as he assured that all efforts are being made to ensure the safe release of the victims.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, ANTHONY VARGAS AND PNA