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Monday, November 7, 2016

Abu Sayyaf claims to have kidnapped German, killed woman

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military is verifying a claim by Abu Sayyaf militants that they have kidnapped a German man from a yacht and shot and killed his female companion, whose suspected body was found in the abandoned boat in the southern Philippines, officials said Monday.

Regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said Abu Sayyaf spokesman Muamar Askali had claimed the militants kidnapped Juegen Kantner and killed his companion while the couple were cruising off neighboring Malaysia's Sabah state.

It's not clear why the woman was purportedly killed, but it's possible she may have fought back or tried to escape, Tan and another military official said.

Villagers reported finding a dead woman lying beside a shotgun on board a light blue yacht with the German flag and marked "Rockall" off Laparan Island in Sulu province, Tan said. The southern province is where the ransom-seeking militants hold their hostages in tropical jungle encampments.

Troops took custody of the woman's body and the yacht Monday. The body and the yacht were being examined by police investigators in Tawi Tawi province, near Sulu, as part of efforts to verify the Abu Sayyaf's claim, the military's Western Mindanao Command said in a statement.

"Alarming is that the body found was naked and had several contusions to the face and was possibly raped," the military said.

If the attack on the couple is confirmed, it would be the latest in a wave of attacks at sea by the Abu Sayyaf and allied gunmen despite efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to jointly shore up security in their busy sea border, where Indonesians and Malaysians have been kidnapped from tugboats and fishing boats in recent months.

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry confirmed receiving information about the separate kidnappings of two Indonesian skippers of vessels off Sabah over the weekend, saying it was touch with Malaysian and Philippine government officials about the latest kidnappings.

Indonesia's government has called on Indonesian crewmen in Sabah to avoid sailing in the risky waters until security has improved, the ministry said.

The kidnappings have continued despite one of the largest military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf, mainly in Sulu and the nearby island province of Basilan, involving more than 6,000 troops, navy gunboats and rocket-firing air force aircraft.

Without a known foreign source of funds, the Abu Sayyaf has survived mostly on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry.

A confidential Philippine government threat assessment report seen by The Associated Press said the militants have pocketed at least 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from ransom kidnappings in the first six months of the year and have turned to abductions of foreign tugboat crewmen as military offensives restricted their mobility.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30, has ordered troops to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, known for its brutality and ties to some foreign militants, and has ruled out the possibility of any peace talks with them. He has pursued talks with two other larger Muslim insurgent groups.

Duterte intends to discuss with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak possible solutions to end the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping menace in the region when he makes a visit to Malaysia starting on Wednesday.

The government report said the Abu Sayyaf had 481 fighters with 438 firearms in the first half of the year, but the military reported last week that it had killed 70 of the militants and captured 32 others since July in Basilan and Sulu, a Muslim province about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the U.S. and the Philippines as a terrorist organization, still holds more than a dozen foreign and local hostages.

Anticipating that the Abu Sayyaf may soon demand the German to be ransomed off, Tan appealed for people to follow the Philippine government's no-ransom policy.

"If we give in to ransom, a greater damage will be done. They can use the money to buy arms and to feed their bandits and that will fuel again the tendency for them to kidnap," Tan said. "It becomes a lucrative business."

Related News --------------------

Abducting German under investigation

MalacaƱang on Monday said the government is getting in touch with regional counterparts after the Abu Sayyaf Group has claimed that it has abducted a German national off Sabah.

"The matter is under investigation and the government is in conversation with our regional counterparts," presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

Earlier, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said that ASG claimed to have seized a yacht off Sabah with 70-year-old German Juegen Kantner and his female companion Sabina Wetch on board. But the bandits said they left behind Wetch behind.

Before receiving the Abu Sayyaf's claim, Tan said residents in Sulu recovered a female foreigner's cadaver in a yacht believed to be of Wetch. —ALG, GMA News

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