MANILA (dpa) – The alleged payment of nearly six million dollars in for the release of two German hostages in the southern Philippines on Saturday raised concerns that militants would launch moreattacks and kidnappings in the country.
Authorities could not confirm or deny the ransom payment, but a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf group said they received 250 million pesos (5.6 million dollars), “not a single centavo less, not a single centavo more” for the German couple’s freedom on Friday.
If true, it would be the highest ransom paid to the militants since 2000, when the Abu Sayyaf allegedly received up to one million dollars for each of 21 European tourists and Asian workers seized from a Malaysian resort.
Awash with cash, the group could recruit more people, purchase weapons and buy the loyalty of impoverished communities where they hide, train and plan their activities, analysts warned.
“They will gain more because now they have money to recruit,” said Clarita Carlos, a political and defence analyst. “This is a very, very bad signal because you’re telling people that kidnapping is the quickest way to earn money.”
She said the development would “definitely” increase the security threat in the Philippines.
“When you pay such a big amount of money, people will not work anymore. They will just kidnap and they’ll kidnap somebody who has white skin.”
Abu Sayyaf is the most violent militant group in the Philippines, where it has been blamed for bombings, kidnappings, raids on Christian communities and attacks against government forces since it was formed in 1992.
The kidnapping of the German hostages in April was initially treated as a low-key police matter until the Abu Sayyaf threatened to kill one of them if Germany did not withdraw its support for US attacks against the extremist group Islamic State (IS).
Security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said the Abu Sayyaf were “free riders”, taking advantage of the popularity of the extremist group “to justify their violent acts”.
If they had carried out their threat to kill one of the German hostages, it would have given the Abu Sayyaf “political mileage” with the Middle Eastern extremist group, he noted.
“It is a win-win situation for them,” he said. “They are after the money. If they didn’t get the money from the victims, they could have gotten the money from the IS had they committed the act of violence.”
With the ransom payment, Banlaoi said, “the Abu Sayyaf will not stop its activities.”
He added that they could even “mobilise more people and increase their leverage” by using the IS brand whenever it suits them.
The military has launched an offensive against the kidnappers in the hope of freeing 10 other hostages, including two birdwatchers from the Netherlands and Switzerland, spokesman Major General Domingo Tutaan said.
“We are in close coordination with the police and we are undertaking both proactive and reactive measures to prevent more kidnappings for ransom and to protect the communities,” he added.
Carlos warned that an armed response would not stop the militants, some of whom see kidnapping for ransom not as a crime but as a way of “income redistribution”.
“They have been so deprived, they have been so marginalised,” she said. “Kidnapping for ransom is the only way they think they can rectify the hugely unequal distribution of wealth in society.”
The Abu Sayyaf has been reputed to share its loot from previous kidnappings to residents in the affected communities.
“What you need to do is to educate young people that the source of power is not the gun,” Carlos said. “You need to tell them that they can be engineers or doctors. You need to sell hope because these people are hopeless.”