Philippine security forces have captured six alleged Abu Sayyaf militants in separate raids, including three men who evaded arrest for 18 years as suspects in abductions in which five victims were beheaded, officials said Tuesday.
The National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) said three of the men were captured last week in the southern city of Zamboanga, while three were caught in a raid in a mostly Muslim community in Taguig district in Manila.
“The six arrested were involved in various terrorist activities, ranging from ambush, kidnap for ransom, bombings in the southern Philippines and recruitment of other members,” NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin told reporters.
Three of the suspects – identified as Jamil Aril Ibrahim, Majuk Tahil Amil and Yong Hasim Aming – were allegedly involved in mass abductions in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo, and had evaded arrest since 2001, police said. They were arrested in separate operations in the southern city of Zamboanga last Wednesday, though their arrest was only announced Tuesday.
“Ibrahim and Amil have standing warrants of arrest for kidnapping and serious illegal detention that stemmed for the abduction on June 1, 2001 of seven workers of Golden Harvest Plantation,” in the town of Lantawan in Basilan, police Brig. Gen. Froilan Quidilla told BenarNews.
The other suspects named were Azmier Malum, Amar Assan, and Musa Tahil Sampang, though it was not clear what roles they played in the abductions.
NBI agents backed by Special Action Force police commandos, as well as naval intelligence agents joined in the operations, Quidilla said.
Five of the plantation workers were beheaded and their heads dumped in the village near a military camp, while the rest were either freed or escaped, officials said.
In 2001, the Abu Sayyaf group also abducted 20 tourists, including three Americans, at an upscale resort in the island of Palawan. The victims were also taken by their captors to the nearby island of Basilan. Two of the American captives were killed; one was beheaded as the gunmen pressed for ransom payments, and the other died during a military rescue. The rest were freed allegedly in exchange for ransom.
Quidilla said Aming on the other hand was wanted for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of six members of Jehovah’s Witness on August 2002 in Patikul town, in Sulu province. The victims were dealing cosmetic products when they were seized by Abu Sayyaf members. Two of the male victims were beheaded while the four others were released after ransom was allegedly paid, police said.
Quidilla said the captured suspects were brought over the weekend to Manila through the request and coordination made by the police’s Counter-Terrorism Division, the lead unit for the arrests, for proper documentation and disposition by a court in Manila.
NBI’s Lavin said Ibrahim, who fled to Sabah, Malaysia, and stayed there for years, was in charge of smuggling of guns and people from the neighboring nation to Mindanao.
“He is a reliable boat man. Their fighters were decreasing, so they have to recruit more for Mindanao,” Lavin said.
In February, an Abu Sayyaf member named Abdurahman Daiyung was arrested in Manila, where he was passing himself off as a regular welder and hiding out for a few months. But authorities were tipped off after he was monitored moving around and making contacts with the Abu Sayyaf.
Apart from the Basilan Golden Harvest abductions, Daiyung was also wanted for a bombing attack that had killed seven civilians in Kidapawan city, also in the south.
The announcement came barely two weeks after another Abu Sayyaf unit killed Ewold Horn, a 59-year-old wildlife photographer who was seized while traveling in the south in 2012. A companion, Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, was able to escape two years into their captivity.
Horn was the first Western hostage allegedly killed by Abu Sayyaf militants since the group executed two Canadian captives in 2016, and a German hostage the following year.
Founded originally to fight for an independent Muslim state in the southern third of this predominantly Catholic nation, the Abu Sayyaf was once led by an Afghan-trained firebrand, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani. Early in its creation, Janjalani was slain in an encounter, and he was replaced by a younger brother, who would later mastermind cross-border kidnapping raids that shone the international spotlight on the Abu Sayyaf.
A year before the 2001 abductions, the Abu Sayyaf seized 10 European and 11 Asian hostages from the Sipadan diving resort in Malaysia. All the hostages were later freed after alleged ransom payments, but the kidnappings hurled the obscure group to notoriety as an international terrorist organization.
Most of the group’s original leaders, however, were later killed or captured, but one, Isnilon Hapilon, would later become the head of the Islamic State (IS) in the region.
Two years ago, Hapilon led a group of local militants, backed by fighters from the Middle East and Asia, in taking over the southern city of Marawi. He was killed months later along with the ringleaders, but the cost had been high. Marawi, once the showcase of Islam in the country, was destroyed, and about 1,200 people, most of them militants, were killed. Thousands of Marawi residents remain displaced.
In January this year, an Abu Sayyaf faction allied with the IS bombed the Catholic Church in Jolo, killing 23 people. Police investigators said the blast was the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf in cahoots with Indonesian suicide bombers, a claim that has been discredited by Jakarta.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato contributed to this report.