According to latest reports from the Philippines, the Red Cross workers kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf are still alive – though no ‘proof of life’ has been received, despite requests.
Abu Sayyaf has already shown it is willing to behead innocent people to further its aims, whatever they are. So nothing can be taken for granted in terms of the safety of the current hostages.
Refusing to give in to demands from terrorist groups like this is horribly hard when people’s lives are at stake. But governments must not give in. They must not give way at all. Terrorists must learn that kidnapping and murder will not gain them anything.
In what must surely count as one of the most bizarre turns of events in recent news, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, another Philippine terror group, has come out in support of the hostages, saying that Islam does not allow harm or killing of civilians and non-combatants. Pardon? The MILF has a long history of doing just that, including kidnapping children and using them as soldiers. Maybe this is a change of heart for them. I hope so, and certainly hope and pray that this will make a difference to the actions of Abu Sayyaf.
I’m not sure this is responsible reporting by Reuters – it seems foolish and dangerous to tell the enemy what you are planning to do – but they report that the Philippine military are retaking the positions they withdrew from in order to secure the release of the hostages (since withdrawing achieved nothing), the provincial governor has issued proclaimed a state of emergency, and that soldiers are preparing for a possible rescue attempt. Further updates as they arrive.
As at Thursday morning, Philippine security forces have cordoned off a large section of jungle in Indanan on the West of Sulu province, cutting off the terrorists from outside aid. Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga has been appointed to ensure the safe release of the hostages. Since the initial withdrawal of troops did not work, it seems likely that some sort of military operation is now inevitable. This is a dangerous time for the hostages.
Friday morning and one of the hostages, Mary Jean Lacaba, has been released. She is a Filippina. Some media organisations suggested this made her more, rather than less, likely to be murdered. But she was dumped in a small village at about nine on Thursday night. She was picked up by the army and taken to hospital. She is good health. The good news is that the other two hostages, one Swiss, one Italian, were alive and well when she was released. The military are apparently still planning to attempt to rescue them.
Saturday, and Abu Sayyaf have renewed their threat to behead the two remaining hostages if Philippine forces do not withdraw completely from what they regard as ‘their’ territory. Philippine forces have stood down from further action for the time being, but according to their commander, this is only so the two hostages can be released in safety. The military cordon around the kidnappers camp remains in place, despite a land mine exploding under a truck transporting soldiers to the site. Three soldiers were injured.
Meanwhile, in nearby Basilan, where Abu Sayyaf claims numerous members, a bomb exploded outside a Jollibee restaurant, killing two people and injuring another eight.