The Philippine Army is in a race against time in a bid to rescue kidnapped German sailor Jurgen Kantner from the clutches of Abu Sayyaf.
The Islamic State-affiliated group released a sick video this week, threatening to behead the abducted sailor unless a ransom of 30 million pesos — $600,000 — is paid by 3pm on February 26
Elite army special forces and ranger battalions have now been mobilised to press deeper into the jungles of Sulu and Basilan to locate and rescue the 70 year old.
It was the second such video Mr Kantner has been forced to appear in. Last month we reported (read here) how Mr Kantner was filmed standing in a freshly dug grave wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Colonel Cirilito Sobejana, Commander of Joint Task Force Sulu has vowed to reach him before the deadline expires in just 10 days.
“We are doing our best efforts to rescue the kidnap victim. We have enough forces to do that,” he said.
Last year, Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian captives—Robert Hall and John Ridsdel―over the failure of the victim’s families and government to come up with ransom money. (Full story here.)
Kantner, along with his partner Sabine Merz, were boarded while they were sailing between the coast of Sabah and the island of Tawi Tawi on their 50-foot yacht last November. (Read more here.)
In the attack, Ms Merz was shot dead and Mr Kantner abducted. Her body was later found naked on the vessel.
Sobejana said the success of the rescue mission would rely on the support of local civilians.
“We cannot do it alone, as a matter of fact, we need the support also of the civilians particularly the communities as to where the kidnap victim was brought,” he said.
Colonel Sobejana refused to reveal details of the operation. “I cannot divulge to you whose group is keeping the kidnap victim, but we have an idea already and we will wait what will happen in the next few days,” he added.
“There are a lot of challenges and we are trying to strategise, with so many battalions that I have, we want to cover all areas of Sulu particularly where the kidnap victim was brought to.”
He said there were 14 battalions of troops presently deployed within his jurisdictional area covering Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi, all positioned to take on Abu Sayyaf.
“I will make the full use of my available manpower and troops under my command to decimate Abu Sayyaf. Hopefully we will be able to get the victim with no ransom.”
Abu Sayyaf currently holds 27 hostages — Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Dutch and Filipino.
President Rodrigo Duterte has earlier ordered the military to neutralise the terror group within six month — or by July.
Acting on these orders, the military has shifted its focus back to its counter-terrorism campaign. We have recently reported on how the army is making some substantial inroads, including taking down a senior IS leader. (Read more here.)
Abu Sayyaf publicly pledged allegiance to IS in 2014, but it was unclear whether this was purely for publicity. However, this week we have reported on fresh intelligence that suggests strong links, and funding flowing in from the Middle East disguised as overseas workers’ remittances. (Read more here.)
We have recently reported how IS is eyeing the Southern Philippines as a new base as they continue to lose ground in the Middle East. (See report here.)
We have also covered a UK court case in which a British Muslim convert was found guilty of plotting to join Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. (Read more here.)
The abduction wasn’t the couple’s first experience of terrorism, as we exclusively revealed, in 2008 he was abducted by Somali pirates. After his release, he earned his nickname of “the Crazy German” by returning to the scene of the crime after his release to collect his yacht. (Full story here.)
Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped another German couple in 2014. They were released after 250 million pesos was paid in ransom.