'Abu Sayyaf taking advantage of int'l attention on ISIS'

MANILA, Philippines – The defense department said Abu Sayyaf's threat to behead their two German hostages is propaganda to ride on the international attention that the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) is getting, said a military general in charge of Western Mindanao.

"They are taking advantage of the international attention ISIS is getting so that the ransom would increase. All their activities  are criminal in nature," said Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero, commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command.

The military also reiterated that it has contained Abu Sayyaf members in pockets of Sulu. "There is continuous effort by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police," Guerrero added.

The local terrorist group responsible for several bombing incidents in the country and kidnappings in the region has threatened to kill the hostages, unless they are paid P250 million ($5.62 million, 4.4 million euros) and if Germany stops supporting the US-led campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

Germany responded saying it will not withdraw support for US action against the jihadists. "There will be no change to our Syria and Iraq policy," said a German foreign ministry spokeswoman.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf will continue. "We will not be intimidated by these gestures and actions. We will continue to contain them," Gazmin told local radio dzRH Thursday morning, September 25.  

The goverment maintains that ISIS presence in the Philippines remains unconfirmed inspite of reports received by the Philippine Embassay in Damascus that at least 3 Filipino jihadists were killed in Syria in separate incidents in October and December 2013.

Members of the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have pledged allegiance to ISIS, but military officers dismissed them as the rebels' way of giving ISIS moral support. They claimed they have not monitored ISIS support – finances and weapons – going to the Philippines.  

"We are validating if there really is ISIS here. The report of Mayor Maturan is very deserving but we have not had any confirmation on this," said Gazmin, referring to claims by Mayor Joel Maturan of Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan that ISIS has penetrated the province.

The government has created a technical working group to monitor foreign fighters in the Philippines. 

The military stepped up operations against the Abu Sayyaf since last year. "The order from the President is to once and for all stop the Abu Sayyaf. We're moving towards that direction. We have been reshuffling forces in Sulu. It will not be purely Marines anymore. We will deploy joint forces of Marines and Army in the area," said Gazmin. 

Gazmin confirmed there are ongoing negotiations for release of the German captives through other parties.  – Rappler.com