Philippines rules out talks with militants holding Germans

Philippines rules out talks with militants holding Germans
A photo released on September 24, 2014 by US-based SITE shows the two German hostages kidnapped by the Philippine Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

MANILA - The Philippines said Thursday it would not negotiate with a militant group threatening to behead one of two German hostages, saying it was a "criminal" gang seeking to cash in on its self-proclaimed allegiance to Islamic State jihadists.

The SITE terrorism monitoring group said Tuesday that the Abu Sayyaf warned it would carry out its threat within 15 days unless a huge ransom is paid and Berlin halts support for the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

"We do not negotiate with terrorists," Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters when asked about the 250-million-peso (S$7.13 million) ransom demand.

Germany also insisted it would not withdraw support for US action against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria despite the ultimatum.

Gazmin confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of Islamic militants based in the southern Philippines, abducted a German man and woman at sea earlier this year as they sailed a yacht off the western island of Palawan.

"What the Abu Sayyaf is doing is like propaganda, so that the government will give in to their demands. We will not be intimidated by these gestures and actions," he said in a separate radio interview, adding that the group was weakened and contained to small areas.

"They saw what the ISIS (Islamic State) has been doing, so they used that to increase the ransom," he said, after SITE released a picture attributed to the group showing a masked militant with a machete beside a grey-haired white man.

President Benigno Aquino, who is on a visit to the United States, said the Philippines' struggle against domestic Muslim extremists like the Abu Sayyaf was similar to the global fight against jihadists from the Islamist State group.

Speaking in a media interview while on a US trip, transcripts of which were released Thursday by the presidential palace in Manila, Aquino said that these local groups could not be assumed to be part of the Islamic State.

He also said his foreign secretary would discuss with US State Department officials what kind of help they could provide to the American-led global fight against the jihadist movement.

"Of course, we want to do something that is do-able and within our capabilities without posing undue risks," said Aquino whose country is a close US ally. 

'Criminal in nature'

The Abu Sayyaf, considered a "foreign terrorist organisation" by the United States, is a loose band of several hundred Islamic militants originally organised with Al-Qaeda funding in the 1990s.

The group has been blamed for the Philippines' worst terrorist attacks, including kidnappings, abductions and beheadings of foreign and local hostages.

It is believed to be currently holding several other hostages, including two European birdwatchers abducted in February 2012.

Since July, the Abu Sayyaf has uploaded videos online proclaiming its allegiance to the Islamic State group, which has taken control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Southern Philippines military commander Lieutenant-General Rustico Guerrero brushed aside any links between the two outfits, saying the Abu Sayyaf's activities were merely "criminal in nature".

"They are taking advantage of the international attention ISIS is getting so that the ransom would increase," Guerrero told reporters.

Manila-based security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said the homegrown militants were mainly interested in securing a large ransom for the German hostages, rather than in any political gesture.

"They are after the money," said Banlaoi from the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, adding that the group was trying to re-brand itself "to justify its existence" via professions of allegiance to the Islamic State militants. 

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