Abu Sayyaf militants have executed a logger on the southern Philippine island of Basilan after he failed to recite a Muslim prayer, police said Monday.
Heavily armed Abu Sayyaf members took seven loggers who were working on a coconut plantation in the jungles of Abong-abong village in Maluso town on Saturday. They then asked the men to recite the first seven verses of the Quran called Al Fatihah, police commander Inspector Robert Jay Bacalangco said.
Six of the seven managed to recite the prayer properly, but the last, Eustiqui Auxtero, 39, apparently faltered. He was shot at close range and died instantly, Bacalangco quoted the six loggers as telling the police.
“The six loggers were freed unharmed and reported to us the incident,” Bacalangco said, adding it took police two hours to walk to the site to recover Auxtero’s remains.
Security officials in the south said they were treating the violence as a diversionary tactic by the Abu Sayyaf, whose members in the nearby island of Jolo are on the run from a massive military offensive after suspected militants carried out twin bombings at a church that left 23 people dead and dozens wounded.
In 2007, Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped seven loggers and killed them also in the same town.
Brutal killings have been synonymous with the Abu Sayyaf, a ragtag band of self-styled militants blamed for some of the worst terror attacks in the Philippines during the past two decades.
In 2004, the group bombed a passenger ferry on Manila Bay, killing more than 100 people in one of the deadliest terrorist strikes in the Philippines.
On Jan. 27, the militants bombed a Catholic Church in Jolo as Mass was ongoing, leading to heavy casualties. President Rodrigo Duterte has blamed “suicide bombers” for the incident, and the police subsequently arrested five suspects.
Police said the five men worked with a couple of Indonesians who blew themselves up, a claim that the Indonesian government has taken with a grain of salt.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former army general, said the military and police are on the lookout for an Arab-speaking suicide bomber being harbored by Abu Sayyaf fighters in the jungles of Patikul in Jolo.
Año said the bomber is with the Sulu faction of the Abu Sayyaf led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, believe to be the mastermind of the recent Jolo church bombings and tagged by Washington as the acting leader of the terror network Islamic State (IS) in the Philippines.
“According to our sources he's also a suicide bomber. He is described as an Arab because he spoke Arabic,” Año said, without elaborating.
A faction of the Abu Sayyaf headed by Isnilon Hapilon, then the acknowledged IS leader in Southeast Asia, took over the southern city of Marawi in May 2017 and led local militants, backed by an undetermined number of foreign fighters, in a five-month battle with government forces.
Hapilon and other top IS commanders were among the 1,200 people who were killed, including Malaysians Mahmud Ahmad and Amin Baco, according to Philippine security officials. The two foreigners, however, were still included in a list of wanted terrorists by Malaysia’s Eastern Sabah Security Command as of early last year, due to lack of independent confirmation of their deaths in Marawi.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City contributed to this report.