Abu leader in kidnapping of Burnham couple wants to surrender; Palace condemns soldier’s beheading

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File photo of ASG senior leader Isnilon Hapilon

MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippine military warned Abu Sayyaf Group members that they would suffer the same fate as ASG brigands who were killed in Bohol, a senior leader of the terror group, who is on the U.S. list of the world’s most wanted terrorists, sent surrender feelers to authorities.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office, confirmed on Monday that Isnilon Hapilon had expressed his desire to give himself up to authorities.

Tayo ay natutuwa at kinumpirma natin ang katotohanan ng report na iyan na mayroon siyang surrender feelers,” Arevalo said during an interview with radio dzMM.

[We are glad and we are confirming the truth of the report that he (Hapilon) has surrender feelers.]

Nahihirapan na sila sa kanilang movement. Itong pagsuko na ito ay patunay lang na tayo ay nasa tamang landas o direksyon sa ating ginagawang operasyon laban sa bandidong grupo,” Arevalo added.

[It’s now harder for them to move. This surrender is a proof that we are in the correct path or direction in our operation against the bandit group.]

Last January, Hapilon was reported to have been seriously wounded during military airstrikes in Butig, Lanao del Sur. The ASG leader was involved in the May 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.

Missionary Gracia Burnham survived after she was shot in the legs by her captors during a June 2002 military operation to free the three Americans. But her husband, Martin Burnham, was killed with three gunshot wounds in the chest.

The third American, diving enthusiast Guillermo Sobero from Corona, California, was beheaded by the terror group in June 2001 in Tuburan, Basilan.

On Monday, AFP chief Eduardo Año said the ASG bandits “will suffer the same fatal consequences as these terrorists for attempting to bring in terror and havoc to this tranquil province of Bohol — or in other places in the country for that matter.

“The AFP has sent a very strong message: do not attempt to propagate your nefarious activities,” Año said.

Three more ASG members were killed in Brgy. Catuyok, Clarin, Bohol Saturday night, April 22 after Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Joselito Melloria, alias Abu Alih, was gunned down Saturday night in Brgy. Bacani.

Earlier this month, another ASG leader, Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rahmi, was also killed in Bohol. Askali was involved in the September 2015 kidnapping of Canadians John Risdale and Robert Hall and German Jurgen Kantner on Sama Island in Davao del Norte.

Risdale was executed by the ASG in April 2016, followed by Hall in June the same year and Katner in February 2017. The three were all beheaded.

Palace condemns beheading of soldier

Meanwhile, Malacanang on Monday “strongly condemned” the ASG’s beheading of Staff Sergeant Anni Siraji of the Philippine Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion.

The fallen soldier was abducted by the ASG in Igasan, Patikul, Sulu, on April 20 while he was on his way for a peace and development mission.

Siraji’s remains were found in Sitio Kan Suil, Barangay Tagbili, Patikul, Sulu Sunday afternoon, April 23.

“While Staff Sergeant Siraji was a soldier, he was (an) MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) member who decided to trade his rifle as a fighter to become a peacemaker and agent of development to his fellow Tausugs. This barbaric act committed by ASG to a fellow Tausug has no place in a civilized society,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

We call on all citizens to remain vigilant, alert and watchful and to cooperate with our security forces as our troops continues to pursue this bandit group and hold them accountable for their brutal and senseless crimes,” he said.

“This is our assurance to the family of Staff Sergeant Siraji: That we would not stop until justice is served. Let us work against common criminals to have safer and more secure communities,” added Abella.