SOMETIMES it is difficult to understand Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Rami when we speak over the phone. When I call Abu Rami in Jolo from Petaling Jaya, our conversation can be a Babel of miscommunication.
The phone signal in Jolo is weak. And (English) words sometimes get lost in translation.
Yesterday when I called him, I could barely understand his answers as he quoted Arabic verses from the Quran and Hadith.
Through a Filipino woman with links to an Indonesian journalist, I was connected to Abu Rami on Sept 20. Since then, I’ve been in almost daily communication with him, giving me an insight into the mind of an Abu Sayyaf man.
I’m not new to covering the story of hostages kidnapped on the east coast of Sabah. I interviewed Abu Sayyaf commanders on Jolo island after the group kidnapped 21 people – including 10 foreign hostages – on Sipadan island in 2000.
Last week Abu Rami passed the phone to Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, one of the five Malaysians abducted by KFR (kidnap for ransom) gunmen from Lahad Datu waters off the east coast of Sabah on July 18. I spoke to Mohd Ridzuan for eight minutes in Bahasa Malaysia.
Mohd Ridzuan pleaded to the Malaysian Government and his towkay to rescue them as soon as possible, as their condition on Jolo island was unbearable. The Abu Sayyaf is demanding 100 million pesos (RM8.5mil) for their release.
The Star also published the photographs of the five hostages on Monday.
In Tawau, Sabah, when Rosmiati Abdul Rahim, 39, saw a photograph of her father being held captive in the jungles of Jolo island, she wept.
Her 62-year-old father is Abd Rahim Summas. And the other four hostages are her uncle Tayudin Anjut, 45, her nephew Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23, her cousin Fandy Bakran, 26, and her cousin-in-law Mohd Ridzuan from Pahang.
Yesterday morning, I called Abu Rami to get an update on the five hostages. And also on Ruslan Nasir Sarapin, a 39-year-old boat owner and skipper, kidnapped by six Suluk-speaking men armed with semi-automatic M16 and M14 rifles as well as a pistol in the waters off Pulau Gaya in Semporna on Wednesday night.
Abu Rami, however, did not have any information on Ruslan.
On why the five Malaysian hostages were only occasionally fed with rice and soy sauce, Abu Rami said it was because sometimes the Abu Sayyaf captors were pursued by the Philippine military.
“The hostage told me that the captors hit them with a gun. Why are they hit?” I asked.
“They (captors) are angry that their company is not negotiating for their release,” he said.
“Have you heard that two of the Muktadil brothers were killed on Tuesday?” I asked Abu Rami.
Nikson and Brown were killed early Tuesday night on Pata island in Sulu province, southern Philippines. The Muktadil brothers, who grew up in Bangau Bangau in Semporna, were responsible for nearly a dozen kidnappings in Sabah waters.
Three other brothers – Badong, Sampas, Mindas – have also been killed while Mindas’ twin Kadafi is in a prison in Jolo town.
“Muktadil brothers ... who are they?” Abu Rami said.
“The ones kidnapping in Sabah,” I said.
“Nikson, Nikson ... ya ya Nikson already killed by military intelligence,” he said.
“What do you think about the death of Nikson?” I asked.
“What do I think? I think because he is a hostage taker that is why the military killed him,” he said.
“With the death of Nikson (and five of the other Muktadil brothers) do you think there will be less kidnappings in the east coast of Sabah?” I asked.
“I think there are too many kidnappers and not only Nikson,” he said.
“Will there be more kidnappings in Sabah?” I asked.
“I think yes. Because Sabah is not practising Islamic law and is not an Islamic state,” he said, and he went on quoting Arabic verses.
“Why is it so easy to kidnap on the east coast of Sabah?” I asked.
Not answering the question as he probably didn’t understand it, Abu Rami, who prefers to be known as the spokesman of Al Harakatul Al Islamiyyah, said: “For me, I don’t want to take hostages in Sabah, I want to do it in Israel.”
“Who are the kidnappers?” I asked.
“Many groups. We want to hide their identity.
“I need to ask them first,” he said, adding that they were based in Sabah and Tawi Tawi, Sulu and Basilan provinces in southern Philippines.
“Aren’t you afraid that the Philippine military might gun you down?” I asked.
Abu Rami quoted an Arabic verse, the gist of which was that he is not afraid as it is Allah who decides whether he lives or dies.
“Duterte has said he will wipe out the Abu Sayyaf; is that possible?” I asked.
“That is not true,” he said and he quoted several Arabic verses.
“It is the will of Allah. If Allah wants to wipe us out, we will be wiped out. If Allah doesn’t want, then it won’t happen,” said the 31-year-old Abu Sayyaf member who is involved in preaching to Muslims and Christians in Jolo island.
“Isn’t it unIslamic to behead a hostage? Why did the Abu Sayyaf behead Bernard Then?” I asked, referring to the Sarawakian whom the gunmen murdered in November last year.
“Who is he? Is he a Malaysian Muslim who prays five times a day?” he said.
“Bernard was a Malaysian Chinese,” I said.
“Chinese, yes, because he was an unbeliever,” he said, and quoted several Arabic verses.
“We kill unbelievers and we behead unbelievers. That is why when you ask me regarding this issue, you should research the Quran.”
I wanted to tell Abu Rami that Bernard was not killed because of his religion but because of a quarrel over ransom between two Abu Sayyaf leaders – Indang Susukan and Al Hasbi Misaya. But the line was bad.
Communicating with Abu Rami might not be clear sometimes, but what is clear from him is that the kidnapping menace on the east coast of Sabah remains.