By Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippine troops have captured two suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants who were a part of a faction involved in a daring cross-border abduction of foreign tourists from a Malaysian resort 18 years ago, police said Thursday.
The suspects, identified as Dani Suraidi and Amdak Jumah, went with government forces willingly when they were picked up near the southern city of Zamboanga on Tuesday, regional police director Chief Supt. Billy Beltran said.
Suraidi had a standing arrest warrant for kidnapping and serious illegal detention with ransom in connection with an ASG raid in 2000 on Sipadan, an island resort in Sabah, a state in eastern Malaysia that lies off the southern Philippines.
“We have been looking for him for so long. Suraidi belongs to the group of slain Abu Sayyaf senior leader Albader Parad who then led the abduction,” Beltran said.
Armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the ASG militants went to Sipadan and seized 21 hostages, including three Germans, two French nationals, two South Africans, a Lebanese national and two Finn holiday makers. They also took nine Malaysian and two Filipino resort workers.
Parad later took the hostages to the jungles of Jolo island, at the southern tip of the Philippines, where he transferred them to a larger ASG faction led by Ghalib Andang.
The kidnapping thrust the little-known but brutal ASG to international infamy. The government of then-President Joseph Estrada sought help from the Libya, who helped broker the captives’ release.
The hostages were freed one after the other after months in captivity, allegedly after payments of huge ransoms.
Police chief Beltran said Suraidi was a trusted man of another ASG leader Alhabsy Misaya, who was killed by the armed forces in a clash last year in Parang town on Jolo island.
Last week, another ASG member allegedly involved in the Sipadan hostage crisis was killed during a police operation in Tabuan Lasa town, in nearby Basilan province.
Mobin Kulin (alias Mulawin), was being arrested by authorities but resisted violently, provincial police commander Senior Supt. Nickson Muksan said.
“He fought back and was killed by arresting police officers,” Muksan said.
Numbering around 400 to 500 members, ASG, or Bearers of the Sword, was founded in the 1990s by an Afghan-trained Islamic firebrand, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani.
He was killed in an encounter in the late 1990s, and was replaced by his brother, Khadaffy Janjalani who went on to lead the group in carrying out some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines, including bombings, extortions, random attacks and kidnappings.
The military considers the ASG as a terrorist organization bereft of any ideological leanings. In the past two years, it has beheaded a German yacht owner and two Canadians, whom its members had kidnapped separately in the south, for failing to pay ransoms.
One of the group’s leaders, Isnilon Hapilon, later branched out to become the de facto leader in the country of the extremist group Islamic State. Last May, he led a siege in the southern city of Marawi that precipitated a five-month battle with the Philippine military. About 1,200 people, mostly militants, were killed in the fighting.
Hapilon and several leaders of the rebellion were killed in October at the end of the battle.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.