MANILA, Philippines – One of the six Abu Sayyaf terrorists killed in a gun battle with security forces on Tuesday in Bohol was a commander and spokesman for the terror group and had taken part in the kidnapping and beheading of two Canadians and a German in the past year.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed yesterday the death of Maumar Askali, alias Abu Rami, in clashes with soldiers and policemen in Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo in Inabanga, Bohol last Tuesday.
“First, we have sources inside that initially told us that Abu Rami was among those killed during the encounter and secondly, we compared the picture of Abu Rami to the picture of slain Abu Sayyaf there in Inabanga and they resembled 99 percent,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo.
Año said Askali’s death was a big blow to the Abu Sayyaf as the slain militant had been a zealous commander and spokesman, and a ruthless ransom negotiator.
“If they have further plans to kidnap innocent people somewhere, they will now have to think twice,” he said.
It was Askali’s group which snatched Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel along with Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and their Filipina companion, Marites Flor, from the island resort of Samal in Davao del Norte on Sept. 21, 2015.
Askali, according to Año, was around when his group executed the two Canadians after the family and the government failed to deliver ransom.
The slain terrorist also led the kidnapping of German national Juergen Kantner and his wife Sabine Merz while the two were sailing on a yacht in the waters of Sabah in November last year. Merz was reportedly killed trying to fight off their kidnappers.
Askali’s men executed Kantner last February, also for failure to pay ransom.
“He has the capabilities of slain Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya. He was touted as the next in line to Hapilon or Sahiron of Sulu, being the staunchest advocates of Daesh,” Año said, referring to another name of the Islamic State (IS).
Askali had received bomb-making training from Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, or Marwan, a top Southeast Asia militant leader who was killed in 2015, according to a police profile.
It was Abu Sayyaf’s first known attempt to carry out kidnappings deep in the central Philippine heartland, far from the group’s jungle lairs in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan.
While the bold kidnapping attempt appears to have been foiled, the militants’ success in penetrating the bustling region of beach resorts and other popular attractions could raise concern among tourists and businessmen.
Bohol island lies about 640 kilometers southeast of Manila and is about an hour by boat from Cebu province, a trade and tourism center which has hosted some of the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Año said he could only surmise that the group was in Bohol in preparation for another kidnapping operation during the Holy Week.
The bandits, he said, need money after failing to get ransom from the families of their executed Canadian and German hostages.
He also dismissed reports that the group could be plotting to the sabotage the scheduled ASEAN ministerial meeting in Panglao next week.
“They are in dire need of money and they might be in Bohol to acclimatize in the area while targeting as many hostages,” Año said, adding the three pump boats used by the bandits could accommodate five passengers each.(J. Laude, PS)