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One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday October 18, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday October 18, 2014 MYT 8:25:32 AM

A chilling terrorist warning

Filipino army soldiers on military tanks upon arrival in Jolo port area, Sulu province, southern Philippines, 16 October 2014.

Filipino army soldiers on military tanks upon arrival in Jolo port area, Sulu province, southern Philippines, 16 October 2014.

The beheading threat in Jolo island could be proof that the Islamic State has gained a foothold in southern Philippines.

HOW are you monitoring whether the German hostage will be beheaded at 3pm?”

I messaged via Facebook two Filipino contacts – a journalist and a security force officer – in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines, yesterday morning.

My day started at around 5am when I checked the Facebook page of AbooRami Al-Muhaajer (who – if you follow the chilling story of the threat to execute 71-year-old German doctor Stefan Viktor Okonek – is identified by the media as Abu Rami, spokesman of the Abu Sayyaf group holding two German hostages in Jolo island).

The island is about an hour’s flight from Zamboanga City.

Abu Rami’s latest posting on the slaughter threat was on Oct 7. His message was that if a 250 million peso (RM18mil) ransom was not paid and Germany did not withdraw its troops in the Islamic State (IS), his group Jamaat Abi Sayyaf (Tanum Alharakat Al-Islamiyya) would “execute (behead)” one of their two German hostages.

“For the money, the assurance: no discounts, no fake otherwise we kill two,” he wrote (what he probably meant was: do not negotiate the ransom or make false promises because if you do, we will kill the two hostages).

The spokesman also posted two photographs. One of the photographs was of Okonek and his 55-year-old partner Henrike Dielen, with the black flag of IS and a masked gunman in the background. The second photograph was of Okonek alone.

The German couple’s ordeal began when the Abu Sayyaf group abducted them from their yacht in Philippine waters off Palawan (near Pulau Banggi, north of Sabah) in April. They were then taken to Jolo island.

I’m following the threat to behead Okonek closely as there are still two Malaysian hostages held in the island, which is known as the cross-border kidnapping capital of the Philippines.

The Malaysians are marine police Kons Zakiah Aleip, 26, who was abducted in Pulau Mabul in Sabah on July 12, and Chan Sai Chuin, 32, who was kidnapped at a fish farm in Kunak, Sabah, on June 16. The Abu Sayyaf group has asked for RM3mil each for Zakiah and Chan.

I’m worried that if the kidnappers actually do carry out their threat, the next target would be the Malaysians. However, at the moment, that’s not likely as a different Abu Sayyaf group is holding the Malaysians. The motivation of the group led by Al Habsi Misaya is hard cash.

My other concern is whether IS has really gained a foothold in southern Philippines.

On July 23, a six-minute video of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, along with masked men pledging allegiance (bay’ah) to IS and its head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was posted on YouTube.

Hapilon has a US$5mil (RM16mil) bounty on his head as one of the most wanted terrorists under the United States Rewards for Justice.

In 2001, Hapilon was involved in the Dos Palmas kidnappings in Palawan, in which three of the 20 hostages were Americans Gracia and Martin Burnham and Guillermo Sobero. Sobero was beheaded. Martin was killed but his wife Gracia survived during a rescue operation in June 2002.

“If the German hostage is beheaded, it is a turning point,” an intelligence officer told me.

“It will show that the Abu Sayyaf are taking their bay’ah seriously and that they are taking orders from IS.

“The beheading will also show that the caliphate is gaining a foothold in this part of South-East Asia,” he added.

On Wednesday, the Abu Sayyaf posted a photograph of Okonek sitting in a freshly dug grave while four masked men, carrying the IS black flag, pointed their guns at him.

“I’m sitting here in a hole. They dug a hole, 3m by 1.5m. They told me it is my grave. They pushed me inside the hole and I’m sitting with 10 men around me,” Okonek told Radio Mindanao Network (RMN).

“Please do everything to get us out of here.”

During lunchtime yesterday, Philippine Daily Inquirer journalist Julia Alipala e-mailed an audio recording of Abu Rami’s interview with RMN in Zamboanga City.

“As of now, I tell you the military troops are already side by side of our camp. We would like to tell the public that I don’t want this to endanger the life of hostage before his execution,” a rather excited Abu Rami said in English and Tagalog.

“If there is something to happen to this person before his ultimate date, then they should blame the government of the Philippines and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“We are trying to counter them. We are not afraid to counter them. If they rescue him, we will kill him.

“He will be the one who will tell you. You can’t rely on us, Okonek you tell your reality. If something is to happen to us – they are countering us – we will immediately kill you,” he said.

Okonek said: “My name is Stefan Okonek. I’m a medical doctor in Philippines for holiday. But I was kidnapped in Palawan. They said they will execute me in this jungle area if something happens to them from troops who surround us at the moment.

“My message to my family is ... my wife ... who supported me very much and made it possible for me to study and practise medicine and gave me three wonderful children ... I would like to thank her and I look forward to seeing her in heaven.”

“Dr Okonek, what is your situation there?” asked the radio newscaster.

“I’m surrounded by 20 young men with automatic weapons and they threatened to execute me now.”

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Columnists, Phlip Golingai

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GERMANY OUT

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. Germany said on September 24 it would not withdraw support for US action against jihadists in Iraq and Syria following a reported ultimatum from Philippine Islamist militants threatening to kill a German hostage.  AFP PHOTO / SITE

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