The Philippine National Police (PNP) has apprehended a militant suspected of being involved in the beheading of an American tourist by the Abu Sayyaf group back in 2001.
Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Chief Samuel Pagdilao said Alawie Pasihul was arrested Thursday (June 21) in Zamboanga City near Basilan. In May 2001, American Guillermo Sobero, protestant missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham, and 17 Filipinos were abducted from Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan.
The bandits beheaded Sobero while Daniel Burnham was killed during a military rescue operation. Pagdilao said last Saturday that Pasihul was also involved in the mass kidnapping of students and teachers in Basilan.
US-backed offensives against the Abu Sayyaf have weakened the group. It continues ransom kidnappings to raise funds. Eleven years since the abduction in May 2001, kidnap-for-ransom activities by the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group still looms in the province of Mindanao, particularly in Sulu.
Meanwhile, Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and the two other Filipino cameramen named Ramelito Vela and Rolan Letriro who went missing on June 12 are believed to be in the hands of Abu Sayyaf commander Tuan Nadzmer Alih, a bomb expert, who is allegedly asking ransom for the journalists in captivity.
Recently, there has been confusion within the authorities in declaring whether the group of Atyani was kidnapped. Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for Marines operations of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, said the 3 journalists are moving around Sulu and are “accompanied” by Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
“We cannot confirm that they are kidnapped but for sure, they are with any group of the Abu Sayyaf or even with any armed group. According to our intel and information and witnesses, they are roaming around,” Cenabre said.
The military is currently waiting for the ‘go-signal’ for rescue missions to commence with regards to finding Atyani and his two cameramen. According to Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes, security forces have been preparing for the rescue mission, waiting for orders from the crisis management committee (CMC).
DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, one of the officials skeptical of the disappearance of Atyani said, “We will be have his status checked first before any movement is ordered to the soldiers, because all the information on the ground does not support that Atyani is being (held) hostage. All his itinerary to interview the contact in the (Abu Sayyaf) or JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) were being made available. How can he be kidnapped if he can follow all his itinerary?” the official added.
Malacañang insists the incident regarding Atyani’s disappearance is not an incident of kidnapping, despite confirmation issued by the Jordanian foreign ministry. Travel ban for the Jordanian was brought into light last week as government officials including President Benigno Aquino III wanted to question Atyani and hold him responsible for bringing the country in a bad light in the international arena.
Aside from the Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and his 2 cameramen, 6 other foreigners are believed to be held captive by the group.
Two of the other kidnap victims are Elword Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguera, bird watchers from Europe who were abducted in February.
The military believes that the Abu Sayyaf group is present in the entire Western region of Mindanao and holding their victims in one location in Sulu.