Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said troops came close to rescuing a German hostage held for three months. Duterte commiserated with the German people.
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte apologized on Tuesday for the beheading of German hostage Jurgen Gustav Kantner at the hands of militant separatist group Abu Sayyaf.
The group released a video of the 70-year-old's grisly death on Monday, after a deadline for his ransom had passed, but the Philippines military said it came close to rescuing Kantner.
"I am very sorry that the hostage or a national of your country has been beheaded. I sympathize with the family. I commiserate with the German people," Duterte said at a news conference.
"We really tried our best. We have been there, the military operation has been going on for some time already but we have failed," he said. He stressed that the Philippine government policy of not paying ransoms would be maintained. Payments would just enable the militants to grow in number, he said.
Almost saved by troops
Military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano told reporters that his troops fought with the Abu Sayyaf militants holding Kantner a day before he was killed but about six gunmen managed to remove him from the battle scene near the town of Indanan on the island of Sulu.
Ano said the militants behind the beheading were led by a young commander, Moammar Askali, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Rami.
An intelligence report found Askali pushed for Kantner's death, but other militants wanted to wait for a ransom payment of 30 million pesos (566,000-euros or US$599,000), according to a report by the AP news agency.
Duterte said his government had taken several steps to combat a wave of kidnappings by Muslim militants, including sending a request to China to help patrol the international waters bordering the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia - the scene of many piracy incidents and abductions.
"I asked China if it can contribute to patrolling because the might of China in terms of sea power is a huge one," he said, adding China did not respond to his request.
The man was captured from his yacht while sailing in the southern Philippines with his wife, who was killed during the kidnapping
Outrage in Germany
Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned "this abominable act, which shows once again how inhumane and without conscience these terrorists act," she wrote in a statement. "We must all stand together to fight against them."
Video footage appeared to show Kantner slumped on a grassy lot with a man holding a knife to his neck.
"Now they'll kill me," the man said before he was murdered.
Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of militants based in the Philippines' remote southern islands, has defied more than a decade of US-backed military operations seeking to eradicate it. Lucrative kidnapping sprees have been undertaken by the group in recent years.
Authorities believed Abu Sayyaf to be holding about 20 other hostages. In the past the group had freed several in return for ransom payments.
In 2000 the group abducted 21 tourists, including a German family, from a diving island in Malaysia. They were released after a ransom payment. In 2004 the group killed 116 people in an attack on a ferry in the Philippines. In 2014 the group abducted a German couple from their sailing yacht and released them after several months. This year, two Canadians were abducted and decapitated.
aw/jm (AP, AFP, EPD, dpa, Reuters)