Abu Sayyaf kidnapping mastermind shot dead

Askali, terror group's rising star, among six militants killed in clashes in Bohol resort town

Askali was valued within the group for his family ties with several ranking policemen.
Askali was valued within the group for his family ties with several ranking policemen.

Security forces have killed Abu Sayyaf's spokesman, described as a "rising star" in Muslim extremist circles and who was behind several high-profile kidnappings, in clashes at a popular resort island in central Philippines.

In a news conference yesterday, General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, said Muamar Askali, also known as "Abu Rami", was among six militants killed on Tuesday in Inabanga town, in Bohol province.

"Let's say we are 99 per cent sure it was him… We checked with our sources, cross-checked with other information, and we are one to say that is the same person," said Gen Ano.

Three soldiers and a policeman were also killed in the hours-long firefight that ensued after their team encountered Askali's group.

Askali was leading a band that sailed northward for nearly 800km from an Abu Sayyaf base in Indanan town, Sulu province, to Bohol.

Gen Ano said Askali had planned on snatching "four to five" tourists in Bohol.

"This is a very big accomplishment and a big blow against the Abu Sayyaf," he told reporters.

He said Askali was being groomed as a future Abu Sayyaf chieftain, behind Radullah Sahiron, who carries a US$1 million (S$1.4 million) bounty on his head.

"Abu Rami is a young, aggressive and upcoming leader… who has the potential of being the next leader of the Abu Sayyaf. He was trying to make a name of his own," said Gen Ano.

Young, college-educated and fluent in English, Askali was the Abu Sayyaf's spokesman. He was described in various intelligence reports as a "rising star" and a "true believer" among Filipino militants.

A one-time criminology student, he was 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, which was behind high-profile kidnappings off Malaysia's Sabah state and around the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao.

Two Canadians and a Norwegian were kidnapped at an upscale resort on Samal island, Davao province, in September 2015, and a German off Sabah, Malaysia, in November last year.

The Canadians - Mr John Ridsdel, 68, and Mr Robert Hall, 67 - were executed last year, after ransoms were not paid. Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, was released last year after Askali received US$638,000 as ransom payment.

The German, Mr Jurgen Kantner, 70, a sailing enthusiast who survived after being held for nearly two months by Somali pirates eight years ago, was beheaded in February, after talks for his release in exchange for a 30-million-peso (S$851,000) ransom collapsed.

Askali was also said to be keen on expanding the Abu Sayyaf's reach and elevating the group's profile from a criminal organisation into a legitimate affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Abu Sayyaf's foray into Bohol suggests that navy patrols in waters separating Sulu and Sabah are forcing the group to venture deep into the heartland of central Philippines, where millions of tourists flock to for beach and diving vacations.

The militants have been spotted before in Palawan province, which lies nearer to Sulu than Bohol. In 2001, they seized three Americans and 17 local tourists from a high-end resort off Puerto Princesa city in Palawan.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline Abu Sayyaf kidnapping mastermind shot dead. Subscribe