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Abus plotted to take Pacquiao, Kris – Noy

“They allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as my sister Kris or one of her children, with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts. Threats against my own life have been investigated,” President Aquino said.  Seth Wenig AP photo/Philstar.com AJ Bolando, file

‘Smashing Sayyaf within our grasp’

MANILA, Philippines – The Abu Sayyaf had hatched plots to kidnap boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and celebrity presidential sister Kris Aquino as part of the bandit group’s effort to gain favor with the extremist Islamic State (IS), President Aquino revealed yesterday.

One of the bandit leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, through his cohorts in prison, tried to convert other inmates in the national penitentiary to their cause and establish ties with remnants of the Rajah Sulayman Movement, purportedly in an attempt to embark on a bombing campaign in Metro Manila, Aquino said.

He stressed he has to put an end to the Abu Sayyaf, which has been seeking to align itself with the IS.

“They allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as my sister Kris or one of her children, with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts. Threats against my own life have been investigated,” Aquino said.

The President said no improvised explosive device (IEDs) attributable to the group of Hapilon had been found.

“We have monitored their activities, unraveled their network and arrested key players, while some of the minor players already on the run are being hunted down. I credit our security services for putting these threats to bed with both professionalism and discretion. The public may rest assured that they may go about their daily lives without fear or unease,” Aquino said.

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“However, we want to continue to seriously erode any ability of the Abu Sayyaf to continue to function. This is the reason we are conducting continuing operations in Basilan versus Isnilon Hapilon and his sub-leader, Furuji Indama,” the President said.

Aquino vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf before he steps down from office in June, saying the opportunity to smash the bandit group is now within sight.

Aquino cited reports showing the three remaining captives of the Abu Sayyaf taken from Samal Island in Davao del Norte were under the control of Radillon Sajiron, who consolidated his forces around himself and the hostages.

“This presents both a problem and an opportunity. It is a problem because of the sizeable force surrounding Sajiron and the captives, but it is also an opportunity because smashing these forces is within our grasp,” Aquino said.

“This is why intensive operations are ongoing against the (Abu Sayyaf) forces holding civilians captive in Sulu,” he said.

Aquino ordered the military to exert full efforts to bring down the Abu Sayyaf on the mission to rescue the hostages while ensuring the safety of civilians in the theater of operations.

“We will leave no stone unturned and are studying every instrument, both military and legal, to ensure success in our areas of operation and wherever else required,” the President said.

The government had been exerting maximum efforts to stop the Abu Sayyaf and while casualties were to be expected, Aquino said the war against the bandit group “has to be of utmost importance.”

“The men and women in our Armed Forces are well-trained, well-equipped and resourceful. I have full trust and confidence in them,” the President said.

“We will not stop until the threat they pose to our communities is ended.”

The next president’s problem

The military came under increased pressure to rescue more than 20 foreign hostages still held by the Abu Sayyaf after the beheading of John Ridsdel, one of two Canadians and two others held hostage by the bandit group.

The troops, however, find it difficult to succeed without endangering the remaining captives.

But instead, Aquino said the bandits “galvanized us even further” to ensure justice would be meted out and the other hostages would be freed.

In a statement following the beheading of Ridsdel that outraged Canada, Aquino said the Abu Sayyaf thought “they could instill fear in us” by murdering people and terrorizing the whole population.

The President said he sent a letter expressing condolences to the family of Ridsdel last Tuesday. 

“We are so appalled by this murder. Mr. Ridsdel was a person against whom no one had any grievance – a person who was powerless against his captors. I am ready to devote all my energies towards ensuring that, at the very least, this will be a very seriously degraded problem that I will pass on to my successor,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government would be working with the Philippines to ensure that Robert Hall, the other Canadian being held by the Abu Sayyaf, is returned safely, Canada’s CBC News reported yesterday.

Trudeau told a press conference that he also spoke with President Aquino specifically about efforts to bring Ridsdel’s killers to justice while continuing to protect Canadians around the world.

Citing the security situation, Trudeau did not give any details of what the Canadian government was doing to help free Hall.

Trudeau, however, stressed the Canadian government will not pay any ransom, saying it would put at risk all of its citizens who traveled or lived abroad.

Trudeau added he had discussed the issue of paying ransom with British Prime Minister David Cameron and said they are convinced that the practice was wrong.

“We agreed that it is something that we are going to make sure we do bring up with our friends and allies around the world,” Trudeau said.

According to Trudeau, Ridsdel also holds a British passport.

“We need to make sure that terrorists understand that they cannot continue to fund their crimes and their violence (by) taking innocents hostage,” he said.

Headless

Ridsdel was one of four hostages, including fellow Canadian Hall, held by the Abu Sayyaf since last September. 

The kidnappers had issued a ransom deadline that lapsed Monday. His severed head was found in a plastic bag along a street in Jolo town.

A headless cadaver of a Caucasian male was found in Patikul town yesterday but authorities have yet to confirm if it belongs to Ridsdel.

Provincial police director Sen. Supt. Wilfredo Cayat said the headless body was found by villagers Wednesday morning at Sitio Tibangao, Barangay Tugas covered with sack and leaves.

Cayat said he immediately sent his police team to recover the remains for possible verification of the identity of the victim.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman for Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the military has yet to verify if the body was that of Ridsdel, pending forensic investigation.

There was no indication that the victim was beheaded in the area where it was found “due to the absence of blood stains in the scene,” police investigator SPO2 Mannan Muallip said.

Sources said the Abu Sayyaf executed Ridsdel to avenge the killing of 13 of its men by the military during the night offensive operation to rescue the hostages last Sunday. – Roel Pareño, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Janvic Mateo

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