SAMAL, PHILIPPINES- A video showing hostages begging for their lives and masked men behind them has become viral in social media for almost a month. Militants holding two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina was hostaged in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.
The hostage incident was believed to be led by a college-educated, media-savvy, and a fanatic keen of Abu Sayyaf who wants to transform the extremist group into a bona fide Islamist movement.
As seen on the video, international security analyst Rommel Banlaoi confirms that the masked men in a black Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flag behind the hostages are Abu Sayaf’s “Tanum sub-group” being responsible in the said incident.
The group’s name was derived from the village in town of Patikul, Sulu, where most fighters came from. It is led by Hatib Sawadjaan, whom the military believes commands at least 300 men.
Muamar Askali, Tanum group’s chief planner, is the right-hand man of Sawadjaan and was reported as an apprentice of Bali bomber Umar Patek.
Another analyst who refused to give his identity because he still consults for the military, said while Isnilon Hapilon, Abu Sayyaf’s chieftain, would rather stay safe in his havens in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi islands, Askali is expanding the Abu Sayyaf’s reach and elevating its profile into a legitimate ISIS affiliate.
The hostages include Canadians Robert Hall, 50, and John Ridsdel, 68; Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56; and Filipina Maritess Flor, 40 – who were taken as hostages on September 21 in a resort on Samal Island, Davao Del Norte.
Abu Sayyaf’s involvement doubted the security officials because Samal is over 800km away from Sulu, and far from Malaysia’s Sabah state which is their usual hunting grounds, and the Zamboanga peninsula in Mindanao.
A task force was created to look before the hostage takers in the resort, suggesting that communist rebels were behind the abduction.
The man who demanded to stop the military operation to rescue the four hostages in fluent English in the video was said to be Muamar Askali, who has been described as a “rising star’ and a “true believer” among Filipino extremists. A former criminology student, who valued by the Abu Sayyaf for his family ties with several policemen.
The abduction of two German nationals off Sabah last year was reportedly planned by Askali. The group released the hostages after the German government paid P250 million (US$7.5 million)
Defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio said the evolving of Abu Sayyaf is ideologically rubbish. “They’re using the ISIS flag not because they really believe in it. They’re actually trying to get more support from abroad. They’re just after money… They’re still basically merchants,” he said.