World Bulletin / News Desk
A notorious ISIL-linked group based in the Southern Philippines made around 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from kidnap-for-ransom activities in the first six months of this year.
Police and military reports issued to reporters in Manila on Thursday said that the Abu Sayyaf pocketed the ransoms from January-June after it shifted its priorities from abducting foreigners and businesspeople on the mainland to foreign-flagged tugboats and their crews in local shipping lanes.
It added the group -- renowned for beheading victims -- was expected to intensify its kidnap-for-ransom assaults in the busy waterways between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In early September, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated a directive to the military to "destroy" the group and declared a state of lawlessness following a bombing in Davao City that left 14 people dead and more than 70 others wounded.
Authorities believe that the blast was carried out to divert the military's attention from its fight in Sulu -- a majority Muslim island province in the country's troubled south -- where the Abu Sayyaf has been under siege.
“My orders to the police and armed forces against enemies of the state: seek them out in their lairs and destroy them... The Abu Sayyaf, destroy them, period,” Duterte told a press conference in Davao City, where he served 22 years as mayor.
The report said that in the first half of the year, government offensives have reduced the number of militants from 506 (the January-June 2015 total) to 481, although the Abu Sayyaf succeeded in carrying out 32 bombings in the same period.
The total did not take into account the latest offensive, in which an undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf members are thought to have been killed.
The reports said that of the 353 million pesos, the bulk was paid in exchange for the releases of 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian crewmen abducted from tugboats off the waters of Sulu earlier this year.
Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have since increased patrols in the Sulu Sea, opened new communication channels and put in place a series of emergency procedures to protect sailors.
The group was also reported to have received 20 million pesos in ransom for freeing Marites Flor, a Filipino woman kidnapped with two Canadians -- who were later beheaded -- and a Norwegian.
Duterte has suggested that 50 million pesos was paid for the Norwegian's release.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
The Abu Sayyaf is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to ISIL, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's biggest Moro group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.Last Mod: 27 Ekim 2016, 14:13