Philippines Kills Two Brothers Linked to Abductions of Malaysians, Indonesians

Hata Wahiri and Fahirul N. Ramli
Kuala Lumpur
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160927-MY-brothers-jb-620.jpg Philippine soldiers search for members of Abu Sayyaf in the town of Paktikul, Sulu province in southern island of Mindanao, Aug. 30, 2016.

The Philippines said Tuesday that its military had dealt Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants “a major blow” by killing two brothers linked with the group, who allegedly helped kidnap more than two dozen sailors at sea, including Malaysians and Indonesians.

Nixon Muktadil, who heads the Muktadil gang that is affiliated with ASG, and his brother Brown were killed Tuesday as part of a campaign by Philippine security forces to free all kidnap victims being held by Abu Sayyaf and other armed militant groups in the southern Philippines, Philippine officials said. Hostages still in custody include five Malaysians and five Indonesians.

Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said troops from the Joint Task Force Sulu, assisted by volunteers from Panglima Estino town, engaged in a shootout with the siblings on Tambulian Island, according to a news release from the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

“The fall of the Muktadil brothers is a major blow to the ASG as the siblings served as sea guides and navigators during the group’s conduct of kidnapping[s] in the high seas,” the statement quoted Tan as saying.

Nixon and Brown took part in kidnappings of 26 Filipinos, Malaysians and Indonesians, the spokesman said. Another brother, Mindas, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officials in Jolo, Sulu province, in May 2015. Another brother, Khadafy Muktadil, was arrested in November.

Also on Tuesday, the Philippine National Police announced that it broke up a gun-running syndicate supplying high-powered guns and ammunition to ASG, and seized a cache of grenade launchers, military rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, valued at 6 million pesos (U.S. $124,000), the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported. The syndicate’s leader, Unding Kenneth Isa, and three accomplices were arrested Saturday in Metro Manila.

Ransom payment claim

According to a report published by Philippine-based news website, Abu Sayyaf has collected at least 354.1 million Philippine pesos (U.S. $7.3 million) in 2016 from ransoms paid for hostages. Of that amount, at least 324.1 million pesos ($6.7 million) was raised through ransoms paid for Southeast Asian sailors.

Ransoms have been paid for 17 Indonesians who have been released by Abu Sayyaf this year, Rappler reported.

Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has denied paying for the release of hostages.

“What is for sure is that the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines did not spend any penny to pay the ransom,” Ryamizard said.

“If we obey them [their demand to pay a ransom], it means we are under their power,” he added as he commented on the release of three Indonesian sailors from ASG custody on Sept. 18.

The three were freed after being held for 10 weeks, a day after after Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad was released after being held for months. During the Scandinavian’s captivity ASG executed two Canadians who were kidnapped alongside him.

Meanwhile, Malaysia continues to seek the release of five sailors who were abducted by ASG from their ship off the coast of the Eastern Malaysian state of Sabah in July.

Halim Ishak, who was involved with the April 1 release of Malaysians relatives Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Teck Chii, 29, their cousin Johnny Lau Kim Hien, 21, along with Wong Hung Sing, 34, said the government is trying to locate the missing Malaysians.

“The victims are hidden in various places and often move from one place to another,” Halim, the chairman of the Malaysian Community Care Foundation, told BenarNews. “The CCF expects all parties to be patient as the government is determined to help free the victims.”

A security analyst said Malaysia needed to improve its efforts against militant groups.

Malaysia should be combatting kidnapping in a professional manner and not paying ransoms, security analyst Akhbar Satar told BenarNews.

“To me, Malaysia should not bow down to the pressure of the kidnappers because it will be a trend,” he said. “Perhaps, we should opt for the use of special ops to free the hostages just like the U.S.”

Trilateral efforts

Meanwhile, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have held a series of meetings aimed at improving security for sailors in the region. The nations have discussed the need for joint maritime patrols to halt kidnappings by ASG and other groups in the Sulu and Celebes seas that separate the countries, but have not been able to launch those patrols.

Now, the new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, is stepping up efforts against AS. His government has deployed nine police and military battalions, totaling about 9,000 personnel, to suspected hideouts in the southern island provinces of Sulu and Basilan. As a result, 21 ASG members surrendered Friday in Sumisip, Basilan, according to government officials.


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