AsiaTop StoriesWorld

Philippines says Islamists beheaded Filipino captive

CAPAS TOWN: This file photo taken on April 14, 2016 shows US marines walking next to their transport and amphibious vehicles at a temporary camp for the “Balikatan” joint US-Philippine military exercise at Crow Valley. — AFP

MANILA: The Philippine army said Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf militants have beheaded one of four Filipino fishermen they took captive in December. Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, military commander on the southern island of Jolo island said the boat’s captain had been executed in the jungle near the town of Patikul on Thursday but his remains have yet to be recovered.

Noel Besconde was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, along with three crewmen in December, while on board a fishing vessel in the Celebes Sea. Abu Sayyaf is a small but brutal militant group known for beheading, kidnapping, bombing and extortion in the south of the mainly Catholic country. Sobejana said it was likely the abductors beheaded Besconde because he was sick and had become a liability.

“The reason why he was beheaded is that he was delaying their movement,” Sobejana told reporters. “They (Abu Sayyaf) are highly-mobile and we are pursuing them.” Sobejana said the group had demanded 3 million pesos ($60,648.94) ransom for Besconde but the government maintains its policy of refusing to pay ransom. The army has declared all-out war with Abu Sayyaf on the islands of Jolo and Basilan, but is hamstrung by its presence among large civilian communities.

Abu Sayyaf has its roots in separatism but its activities are mostly banditry and piracy and it has invested the profits of its business in modern weapons and fast boats. Sobejana said the Abu Sayyaf group is still holding Besconde’s crew, along with more than a dozen foreign nationals in Jolo. The militant group last year beheaded Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall. An elderly German, Jurgen Kantner, suffered the same fate in February when a $600,000 ransom demand was not paid.  The army said on Wednesday that an Abu Sayyaf leader who was directly involved in the kidnap and execution of the Canadian and German nationals was among those killed by Philippine troops in a clash on a resort island last week.

Philippines, US to hold military drills
Meanwhile, the Philippine military said yesterday it would hold annual exercises with US troops next month, reaffirming its commitment to the alliance despite cooling relations under President Rodrigo Duterte. The 10-day exercises will be the first held under Duterte, who has suggested cancelling the drills and called for the withdrawal of American troops, putting into question Manila’s 70-year-old alliance with Washington as he looks instead to court China.

The outspoken Filipino leader, who has earned international censure for a war on drugs that has seen thousands killed, has since softened his stance on working with the US military. The annual military exercises, known as Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder), will now go ahead in May, focusing on counter-terrorism and disaster response as the Philippines battles Islamic militants in their lawless southern strongholds.

“It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism,” Balikatan spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson told AFP. “We are safe to say there will be no more live-fire exercises. We (will) focus on humanitarian and civil assistance.” In previous years Balikatan had evolved from counter-terrorism maneuvers against Islamic militants to simulations of protecting or retaking territory, as a dispute with Beijing over islands in the South China Sea escalated.

But Duterte, who took office last year, has sought improved relations with China and has set aside the maritime row in favor of economic concessions.  Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had said the exercises would refocus on fighting terrorism, which he described as the Philippines’ top security problem.  The Philippines is battling Islamic militants and pirates in the conflict-torn south, where several groups have pledged allegiance to Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. Security forces in the past week clashed with the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group on a popular resort island, the first attack on a key Philippine tourist destination in recent years. – Agencies

Back to top button