The Abu Sayyaf terrorists who landed on Bohol yesterday were planning a mass kidnapping at a tourist resort, the military has said today (Wednesday, April 12).
The raid came just two days after the US Embassy in Manila warned that the Islamic State-affiliated group was planning an attack in the Central Visayas region.
Military chief of staff General Eduardo Año said the group were planning to lie low until Easter Sunday when they would swoop on a resort when it was packed to capacity for the holiday. “They are expecting probably to kidnap four or five persons per boat, so at least 10 to 12 kidnap victims was their plan,” he said.
The terrorists, now believed to number 11, landed on the popular tourist island on Tuesday. Within hours they were engaged by security forces in clashes that left six militants dead and also cost the lives of three soldiers and a policeman.
Among the dead, was Abu Sayyaf leader Moammar Askali, also known as Abu Rami, who was involved in the beheadings of Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel and German Jurgen Kantner.
The army and police continue to hunt the remaining five Abu Sayyaf gunmen, along with any local collaborators. “They are all running for their lives,” said General Año.
Abu Sayyaf launched their strike from their stronghold on Jolo Island, which is about 300 miles to the south of Bohol.
Philippine intelligence agencies got wind of the plan last week, and alerted foreign counterpart agencies, leading to the warning from the US Embassy.
However, it seems that President Duterte wasn’t informed. When asked about the embassy’s warning as he left for a trip to the Middle East, he said: “Why should you worry about the US embassy? I should be worrying about my country, not the American embassy.”
Although they knew the raid had been launched, intelligence agencies lost track of the terrorists in the open seas.
Following the attack, authorities in nearby Cebu have warned people to be vigilant. “It is unlikely that they have the operational capability to do further damage now. However, other elements may exist,” Cebu city Mayor Tomas Osmena said on his Facebook page.
Meanwhile, two Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders and nine of their followers have surrendered to the military in Tawi-Tawi.
Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said Berong Sariol and his brother Ben Saudi Dambong Sariol yielded voluntarily at 6pm on Tuesday.
The other nine who surrendered are also members of the same family. They are Jasim Dambong, Mujil Dambong, Magelan Langal, Kael Sariol, Nurhamin Sariol, Alhan Sariol, Amnisain Sariol, Akmad Sariol and Benasil Sariol.
A total of 16 Abu Sayyaf members have surrendered to the government recently.
However, the militants still hold at least 29 captives on Sulu, many of them foreign crewmen seized from their ships.