MANILA – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday said it has arrested an Abu Sayyaf Group leader who led the abduction of two European birdwatchers in Tawi-Tawi last year.
Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita, Sulu Provincial Office director, said Haik Asgali alias "Abu Aswad" was arrested in Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday by joint police and military forces.
Abu Aswad, a 30-year-old resident of Barangay Kaunayan in Patikul Sulu, is accused of leading a group who abducted Elwold Horn from Holland and Lorenzo Vinciguerra from Switzerland in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi on January 31, 2012.
Orbita said Abu Aswad has since been involved in other abduction incidents.
He said Abu Aswad is a nephew and trusted aide of Radulan Sahiron, a leader of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group. He said another man was also arrested with Abu Aswad.
"He was involved in a series of kidnapping incidents, significantly in kidnapping in Tawi-Tawi where two European birdwatchers were abducted. There was resistance but it was good he was unarmed during that time," Orbita told ANC.
Asked about the effect of Abu Aswad's arrest to the bandit group, Orbita said, "Hindi natin makikita na masyadong maapektuhan ang kanilang organization, kasi this is an organized group already, but on the part of Radulan Sahiron, kasi nephew niya ito, siyempre it will have a great emotional effect."
Local officials earlier said the two foreign nationals are wildlife photographers and had been in the island province for about two weeks before they were abducted.
Ivan Sarenas, a Filipino guide for the two wildlife enthusiasts, was also kidnapped, but said he managed to jump off a boat that was taking the abducted men away.
Sarenas said Vinciguerra and Horn had travelled to Tawi Tawi, ignoring foreign government advisories about the kidnapping threat there because they wanted to see the Sulu hornbill, a critically endangered bird species. – with reports from Edwin Sevidal, dzMM; and Agence France-Presse