Philippine police and military will continue to pursue members of Abu Sayyaf in the nation’s south after the group freed two German hostages last night, military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said.
“There won’t be a pullout of troops,” Catapang said in a mobile-phone message last night. Authorities will conduct an “all-out offensive” against the kidnappers, he said.
Catapang on Oct. 8 ordered the deployment to Sulu of 100 elite soldiers from Zamboanga City in the Mindanao region. About 2,000 troops are conducting operations in the province. Sulu authorities have prepared evacuation centers and relief goods for 5,000 people in case they’re affected by clashes between troops and Abu Sayyaf, Sonny Abing, a Jolo provincial government spokesman, said by phone yesterday.
The militant Islamic group released Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrike Dielen after almost six months of captivity in the jungles of Jolo island, 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila. The Germans, seized in April in waters off Palawan province, arrived at Villamor Airbase in Manila at 6:45 a.m. and were handed over to German Embassy officials, military spokesman Major General Domingo Tutaan said in a mobile-phone message.
Abu Sayyaf earlier threatened to kill the hostages if Germany didn’t pay a ransom and end its support for the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State in the Middle East, the SITE intelligence group reported on its website last month.
The two were released following payment of a 250 million peso ($5.6 million) ransom, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported, citing an Abu Sayyaf spokesman.
Abu Sayyaf, which New York-based security consultancy Soufan Group said has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, is still holding about 13 captives, including seven foreigners, according to the military.
Abu Sayyaf is the most violent of the Islamic separatist groups operating in Mindanao and has used terror both for financial profit and to promote its jihadist agenda, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. It engages in kidnappings for ransom, bombings, assassinations and extortion. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement with the government in March, is also still active in the region.
President Benigno Aquino ordered the military to stop Abu Sayyaf “once and for all,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told DZRH radio on Sept. 25. Government forces in Sulu will be reorganized, and the army and marines will join forces to combat the militants, he said.