MANILA - The government vowed Thursday to use the full force of the law to punish Abu Sayyaf bandits behind the beheading of an elderly German captive.
The Islamic State-linked bandits posted a video of a machete-wielding militant beheading Jurgen Kantner, 70. The German had appealed for help twice in short video messages, saying he would be killed if ransom were not paid.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana condemned Kantner's murder as among the "most heinous of crimes against humanity" and promised justice for his family.
"We can assure them and the whole world is that we are going after these animals with the full force of the law. Make no mistake. They will feel the wrath of the entire Filipino nation through the might of its armed forces," Lorenzana said in a statement read by DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong.
Key commanders who are "well-versed" in Abu Sayyaf's bloody history and the terrain of the south are leading offensives against the bandits, Andolong said.
He added that government officials are set to hold a peace and security summit with Muslim community leaders this week, in a bid to cut civilian support for Abu fighters and prevent the radicalization of youngsters.
President Duterte may attend the summit where Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon are expected, according to Andolong.
FROM LUXURY YACHT TO CAPTIVITY
Kantner and his companion were taken captive in November while sailing on a 53-footer yacht near Sabah, eastern Malaysia, and brought to Jolo. His companion was shot dead when she tried to resist the militants.
Reports of Kantner's execution emerged on Sunday evening, but the military only confirmed the killing on Monday, citing "reliable sources".
Andolong said troops were still searching for Kantner's remains in order to hand them over to his family.
"They (Abu Sayyaf) are on the move and I think it is problematic on their part to dispose of the remains at the moment. In the past, what they have done is iniiwan nila somewhere tapos inaanunsyo nila (they leave the body somewhere and announce its location)," he explained.
Abu Sayyaf, which means "bearer of the sword", has capitalized on decades of instability in the southern Philippines and generated tens of millions of dollars from piracy and ransom payments.
It uses the money to buy arms, high-powered boats and modern navigation equipment, allowing it to avoid detection and seize crew of slow-moving vessels with ease.
Abu Sayyaf usually courses its demands through the families and companies of its hostages, but the Philippine government stood by its "no ransom" policy as it exhausted all efforts to save Kantner, Andolong said.
The bandits, he said, are currently holding 31 hostages - 12 Vietnamese, 6 Filipinos, a Dutch, 7 Indonesians and 5 Malaysians. Experts say the group is very unlikely to free any hostages without payment. -- With Reuters