Three employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have been abducted in the southern Philippines. The authorities say the Swiss national Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and the Filipina Jean Lacaba, were on a relief and medical mission when they were kidnapped on Jolo island.
The Philippine army launched a massive operation against the Abu Sayyaf in 2006
The head of the Philippine National Red Cross said the three workers from Italy, Switzerland and the Philippines were travelling to the Jolo airport when they were abducted by an armed group. The authorities haven’t yet identified the kidnappers, but they believe the rebel Abu Sayyaf group could be responsible, considering the fact that the Jolo island is their stronghold.
The group has been blamed for kidnapping tourists and foreign workers for ransom in the past. In 2001, it abducted twenty hostages from a luxury resort in the western Philippines and beheaded three of them, including two Americans.
The rising incidents prompted the government to take stern action against them. In late 2006 the authorities launched a massive campaign called ‘Oplan Ultimatum’, in which some of Abu Sayyaf’s top leaders were killed.
Kidnapping for ransom
Rommel Banloi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Political Violence and Terrorism Research says the group is now trying to rebound:
“It is mobilising resources in order to recover from the ‘Oplan Ultimatum’ launched by the government in 2006 because they lost so many members including their key leaders and that’s why it is resorting to ransom kidnappings.”
He adds the group is recruiting young people by offering them easy money.
“The general sentiments among Muslim community they want to uphold moderate type of Islam. Most of the new recruits are from the younger Muslim community, who are joining the group because of financial reasons.”
Need for better governance
The Abu Sayyaf, formed in the 1990s, is suspected of having links to al Qaeda and to Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiah. It has been blacklisted by the US government as being one of the foreign terrorist organisations.
Experts say the Philippine government needs to engage itself more seriously and look for alternative ways other than violence to address the problems of minority Muslim community. Banloi again:
“The government is now implementing a holistic approach which will address not just the military dimension of the threat but also the socio-economic and political dimension. But unfortunately, there is a lack of effective governance in the southern Philippines which has resulted in the economic marginalisation of many Muslim Filipinos.”
For decades, the restive southern Philippines, has been a base of separatists and other militia groups which are seeking a separate Islamic state.