MANILA - Security forces have killed Abu Sayyaf's spokesman Muamar Askali, described as a "rising star" among Islamic extremist circles and linked to several high-profile kidnappings in lawless southern Philippines and around Malaysia's Sabah state, dealing a major blow to the militant group.
Military chief General Eduardo Ano said in a phone interview on Wednesday (April 12) that Askali, also known as Abu Rami, was killed in clashes in Bohol, an island province in central Philippines popular with tourists. He was among six militants killed on Tuesday in Inabanga town.
"This is a very big accomplishment and a big blow against the Abu Sayyaf… We can attribute a lot of atrocities to Abu Rami," said General Ano.
Senior Superintendent Jonathan Cabal, head of the Central Visayas police office's intelligence division, also reported that the militant spokesman was dead.
General Ano said Askali was being groomed as a future Abu Sayyaf chieftain, behind Radullah Sahiron, who has a US$1 million (S$1.4 million) bounty on his head. "He is trying to make a name of his own."
Young, college-educated and fluent in English, Askali had been described in various intelligence reports as a "rising star" and a "true believer" among Filipino militants.
A one-time criminology student, he was supposedly valued within the Abu Sayyaf for his family ties with several ranking policemen.
Askali was said to be the chief planner of the Abu Sayyaf's Tanum sub-group, behind high-profile kidnappings in parts of Mindanao and Malaysia's Sabah state.
He was also said to be keen on expanding the Abu Sayyaf's reach and elevating the group's profile from a criminal group into a legitimate affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He had appeared in videos demanding ransom for foreigners taken by his group.
They were behind the kidnappings of two Canadians and a Norwegian at an upscale resort on Samal island in Davao province in September 2015, and a German off Malaysia's Sabah state in November 2016.
The Canadians – John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 67 -- were beheaded in April and June last year, after ransoms were not paid. Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, was released in September last year, after the Abu Sayyaf received US$638,000 (S$897,000) in ransom.
German Jurgen Kantner, 70, was beheaded in February this year after talks for his release in exchange for a 30 million-peso (S$854,000) ransom collapsed.
Askali also reportedly planned the abduction in April 2014 of Germans Stefan Okonek, 72, and Henrike Dielen 56, off Sabah. The two were released that same year after the German government reportedly paid 250 million pesos (S$7.5 million).