Philippine govt report: RM30 million paid to Abu Sayyaf

PhilippinePETALING JAYA: Kidnappings for ransom (KFR) has been a lucrative money-spinner for Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Phillipines according to a confidential report commissioned by the Philippines government.

The Abu Sayyaf received about 353 million pesos (RM30.6 million) in ransom payment for the first six months of this year, news agency Associated Press (AP) reported, citing the joint military and police threat assessment report.

“Lucrative payoffs from KFR had enabled the Abu Sayyaf to procure firearms as well as ammunition,” the government report said, highlighting that the 353 million pesos were mainly paid for the release of 14 Indonesians and four Malaysian crewmen.

The four Malaysians – Wong Teck Kang, 31; Wong Teck Chii, 29; Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21; and Wong Hung Sing, 34 – were abducted from a tugboat by gunmen in international waters off Pulau Ligitan in Sabah on April 1 and released on June 9.

The gunmen had initially demanded a ransom of 300 million pesos for the release of the four, but the amount was subsequently dropped to 180 million pesos, according to various press reports following the release of the Malaysians.

Another 20 million pesos was paid for the release of a Filipino woman, Marites Flor, who was kidnapped last year with two Canadians and a Norwegian from a resort on Samal island.

According to AP, the report also highlighted that the Philippine military offensives has made some impact in reducing the number of actual Abu Sayyaf militants – from 506 in the first half of last year to 481 in the same period this year.

However, as a diversionary tactic , the Abu Sayyaf have increased the number of bombings carried out in the Philippines for the same period to 32, which is 68 per cent more than last year.

The Philippine military offensive has intensified since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June, with a promise to destroy Abu Sayyaf and ruling out negotiations with the Islamic militants.

“The Abu Sayyaf shifted in targeting vulnerable foreign-flagged tugboats and their crew due to the focused military operations against the group,” the report said, adding the group was expected to intensify its kidnap-for-ransom assaults in the busy waterways around the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Other cases of kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf did not reap any ransom and also ended brutally for the foreigners kidnapped.

Two Canadians were beheaded after the ransom money was not paid by the original deadline and subsequent extensions. This prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge other governments not to pay ransom to discourage similar abductions.

However, a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad, was freed in September after being held hostage in the jungle for about one year.

According to AP, press reports made at the time prior to Sekkingstad’s release, said that Duterte had suggested that 50 million pesos was paid to the militants.