MANILA (AFP/PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino vowed on Wednesday (April 27) to launch a military assault aimed at "neutralising" Abu Sayyaf militants who he said had planned to kidnap his sister Kris and boxing star Manny Pacquiao. They also beheaded a Canadian hostage on Monday, and are holding more than 20 other foreigners.
Mr Aquino added that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon also tried to convert fellow New Bilibid Prison detainees and establish ties with the Rajah Sulayman Movement in an attempt to "embark on a bombing campaign in Metro Manila".
"They allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as my sister Kris or one of her children, with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts. Threats against my own life have been investigated," Mr Aquino said.
He said there were no reporters of explosive devices from Hapilon's groups while the authorities were able to arrest those involved in the plot.
"I credit our security services for putting these threats to bed with both professionalism and discretion. The public may rest assured that they may go about their daily lives without fear or unease," Mr Aquino said.
"However, we want to continue to seriously erode any ability of the ASG to continue to function," he added, referring to the Abu Sayyaf by a commonly used acronym.
"Casualties are to be expected. But what has to be of utmost importance is neutralising the criminal activities of the ASG," he said in a statement.
The President, in his statement, enumerated the efforts to defeat the Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the early 1990s, supposedly as an affiliate of the Al-Qaeda.
"The Abu Sayyaf has committed atrocity upon atrocity. There was the sacking of Ipil in 1995, the bombing of Davao International Airport in 2003, and multiple cases of kidnapping foreign tourists over the past decade and a half," Mr Aquino said.
"Their actions speak for themselves. Even as it poses as a group of Islamic freedom fighters, the Abu Sayyaf has behaved as criminals focused on enriching themselves by taking hostages for ransom."
Mr Aquino acknowledged that the Abu Sayyaf and other smaller groups want to be associated with the infamous Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) "to gain access to the funds and resources of ISIS".
In this light, the groups aimed to bomb parts of Metro Manila to catch the attention of ISIS, which gained notoriety for beheading journalists and other hostages.
"May I emphasise that these have been, and remain, only aspirations," Mr Aquino said.
The President said there are still operations in Basilan against the groups of Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.
Mr Aquino also personally extended his sympathies to the family of the Canadian national beheaded.
"Yesterday, I sent a letter to the family of John Ridsdel expressing our condolences," the President said in a statement.
"We are so appalled by this murder. Mr Ridsdel was a person against whom no one had any grievance - a person who was powerless against his captors," he said. "This murder was meant to terrorise our whole population."
Inquirer Mindanao earlier reported that Mr Ridsdel, 68, was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf despite news that 20 million peso had been raised for his ransom.
"The Abu Sayyaf thought they could instill fear in us; instead, they have galvanised us even further to ensure justice is meted out," Mr Aquino said.
He said the government has been open to negotiate with armed groups who "desire peace" but he said "those who commit atrocities can expect the full might of the state".