By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) mocked anew the government’s no-ransom policy, its intensified military operations to run down the Islamic State-linked brigands and a vow to rescue all their hostages when the ASG beheaded Canadian tourist Robert Hall, abducted by the group in September 2015 from a Samal Island resort along with two others.
It was a déjà vu situation from last April when the ASG executed Canadian John Ridsdel, a former mining executive, after a $300-million ransom demand was not met.
Robert Hall is believed to have been killed by his ASG captors after the 3 p.m. deadline it set for the payment of ransom lapsed Last June 13. Local publications in Jolo, where the hostages were taken, quoted an Abu Sayyaf spokesman as claiming that they have executed Hall.
The severed head of Hall was found inside a trash bag left near the Jolo Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu past 9 p.m. Based on initial reports, an unidentified man left the trash bag in the area where it was found.
According to Major Filemon Tan, public information officer of the Western Mindanao Command, the decapitated head appears to be that of a Caucasian. Based on photos, Tan said its physical features were comparable to those of Robert Hall.
Although the military has yet to officially confirm the execution, the Canadian government said it has “compelling reason to believe” that Hall has been killed. The furious Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “The vicious and brutal actions of the hostage-takers have led to a needless death. Canada holds the terrorist group who took him hostage fully responsible for this cold-blooded and senseless murder.”
The fates of the two other people abducted at the resort on Samal island — Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor and Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad — are not known.
The jihadists earlier appeared in a video with Hall and another hostage—Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad—to demand a ransom of PHP 600 million. They threatened to kill one of the hostages if no ransom was paid. “If nobody will contact us about our ransom demand or the military conducts an operation, air strikes or artillery attacks or any violation against us, we will hurt and torture the hostages,” the group said.
Earlier, authorities were checking intelligence reports that the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants executed Hall. Preliminary intelligence reports said he was beheaded 10 minutes after the 3 p.m. deadline in the mountains outside Patikul town.
Abu Sayyaf initially demanded PHP 1 billion each for the detainees, but it lowered the ransom to PHP 300 million each early this year.
Abu Raami, spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf Group, confirmed the beheading of the Canadian in a telephone call to the local Philippine Daily Inquirer stringer. Wilfredo Cayat, police chief of Jolo island, said officials were checking reports that said Hall was beheaded in Mount Bunga by Ben Yadah, a local Islamist militant holding four persons captive—three foreigners and a Filipino.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said there was no confirmation from field units, while Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Aquino, said the President cancelled a public appearance while the reports were being verified.
The AFP said operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue. The military’s Western Mindanao Command under Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, however, did not give details about the ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
In April, the ASG beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel, 68, in Sulu after his family failed to pay the PHP 300 million demanded by the rebels.
President Aquino then ordered a massive assault against the jihadist group that has carried out a number of terror attacks. “The government has not wavered in its determination to deal with the kidnap-for-ransom problem,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
“Our focused military and law enforcement operations continue without let-up with the objective of rescuing the hostages and holding their captors accountable for all their crimes,” he added.
Last month, the Abu Sayyaf released 14 Indonesian hostages. It was reported that ransom was paid in exchange for their freedom but authorities would not confirm or deny this.