THE Philippine Air Force launched air strikes against Abu Sayyaf extremists in Patikul, Sulu after the militants threatened to behead a Malaysian fish breeder they have held captive since June if they do not get the P40-million ransom they have been asking, the military said on Saturday.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said MD 520-MG gunships launched the attack 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and dropped bombs at an Abu Sayyaf encampment at Sitio Sangay, Barangay Buhanginan in Patikul.
“We will not give these bandits time to rest. Our troops will continuously pursue them in their forest lairs,” Cabunoc said.
Government forces stepped up the offensive against the extremists, supposedly headed by sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, before a reconnaissance platoon of the 35th Infantry Battalion, under Lt. Col. Marces Gayat, clashed with the bandits in Barangay Bungkaong, also in Patikul, around 7:20 a.m.
The Sawadjaan group is believed to be the same group that detained German nationals Dr. Viktor Estefan Okonek and Henrike Dielsen, who were allegedly released after the payment of some P250 million in ransom.
“We traded fire with them but they scampered away to different directions. There were blood stains along their route of withdrawal,” Gayat said in his after-battle report, adding that government troops.
No less than Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. have been closely overseeing operations since the release of the two Germans on the night of Oct. 17.
Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, head of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the Abu Sayyaf are still in custody of 11 captives, including two Europeans and two Malaysians while the rest are Filipinos.
The extremists are believed to have abducted ornithologists Ewold Horn of the Netherlands and Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland, who have been captives since February 2012.
The Malaysian hostages are fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin, who was seized from his fish farm in Kunak, Sabah on June 26, and Malaysian maritime policeman Zakiah Aleip, who was abducted at Mabul island last July 12.
But Guerrero did not mention Japanese treasure hunter Toshio Ito, who was kidnapped in Sulu on July 16, 2010. The military does not consider him a captive since they supposedly have information that he is cooperating with the Abu Sayyaf.
On Friday, the wife of fish breeder Chan called a press conference in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to appeal for Malaysian government help in raising the ransom for her husband.
“[The Abu Sayyaf] told me [on Thursday night] that they will send back Chan’s head if I fail to pay the ransom,” The Star of Malaysia quoted Chan’s wife Chin Pek Nyen as saying.
“I just do not know what to do. I tried raising the ransom by borrowing from friends and family [but] there’s no way I can raise it, how much can people lend me, I need the help of the government,” she said of the kidnappers’ demand of 3 million Malaysian ringgit.
She said the ransom demand has been reduced from RM15 million to RM10 million over the past months.
“They ask me if I have raised the money. Asked me if I have raised RM1 million. When I say no, they get angry and threatened to kill my husband. They call me up to 17 times a day, until I answer the call,” she said.
But Chin said she has not spoken with her husband since July 27 and she could not say for certain if he was safe and unhurt.
“They tell me he is all right [but] they refuse to let me speak to him. They call me at least once every two days,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police said the Abu Sayyaf has also received last Wednesday P1 million in ransom for the release of an eight-year-old girl they kidnapped in July.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police director Chief Superintendent Noel delos Reyes said the family of the girl paid the ransom to a woman who served as collector for the kidnappers around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and the girl was released an hour later.
“[The girl was] freed by her captors at Jolo wharf after her father handed over P1 million in ransom money to the designated ransom taker, an unidentified woman,”
Delos Reyes said the ransom was made the Jolo Wharf and the girl was also released at another part of the wharf around 2:30 p.m.
The girl was abducted by four armed men from a store in her hometown in Olutanga, Zamboanga Sibugay on July 25, 2014.
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