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Philippines leader vows to 'neutralize' militants

April 27, 2016

President Benigno Aquino has announced plans to launch a military assault against Islamic Abu Sayyaf militants after they executed a foreign hostage. He has also said that the group was motivated by "Islamic State."

Filipino president Benigno Aquino III speaks during the Philippine Army's 119th Anniversary celebration
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Malasig

In his first response since the beheading of a Canadian hostage, Filipino President Benigno Aquino promised a swift reaction to eliminate the Islamist Abu Sayyaf militants responsible, he announced on Wednesday.

"So, to the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group), and whoever may aid or abet them, you have chosen only the language of force, and we will speak to you only in that language," Aquino said in a statement, vowing to dedicate all his energy to eliminate the group before he steps down in two months.

"Casualties are to be expected. But what has to be of utmost importance is neutralizing the criminal activities of the ASG."

On Monday, the severed head of John Ridsdel, a former mining executive from Canada, was found five hours after the expiration of the militants' ransom deadline. The group threatened to execute one of four captives.

On Wednesday, army spokesman Major Filemon Tan said a headless body was found in a dried creek, near jungle where Ridsdel was believed to have been beheaded. They are still verifying if the body was Risdel's.

"This murder was meant to terrorize our whole population. The Abu Sayyaf thought they could instill fear in us. Instead, they have galvanized us even further to ensure justice is meted out," Aquino said.

"We have always been open to talks with those who desire peace, but those who commit atrocities can expect the full might of the state."

The Abu Sayyaf are still holding over 20 foreign hostages including ones from the Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

IS-motivated plots

Aquino also revealed a series of alleged Abu Sayyaf plans on Wednesday to kidnap high-profile Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao as well as the president's younger sister, Kris, who is a popular television personality.

Islamic State - tracking the flow of money

The Philippines president accused Isnilon Hapilon - recognized by militant group Islamic State (IS) as a Filipino leader - of being behind the plots. He said Hapilon and other Abu Sayyaf leaders planned as well to conduct bombings in Manila and even assassinate the president so IS would give the group funds and resources.

Aquino assured the public that key leaders involved in the planned attacks and kidnappings had already been arrested and declared that those threats had been put to "bed."

Although the Abu Sayyaf's leaders have pledged allegiance to IS, some analysts say they are mainly focused on kidnappings-for-ransom rather than setting up an Islamic caliphate.

Abu Sayyaf is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since the 1970s.

The militant gangs have earned many millions of dollars in ransom from kidnapping foreigners and locals since the early 1990s.

On April 9, 18 Filipino soldiers were killed as they waged a day-long battle against Abu Sayyaf gunmen on the island of Basilan.

rs/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)