Militants accused of beheading Canadian tourists surrender

Manila, Philippines –

Two long-wanted Abu Sayyaf militant commanders accused of beheading two kidnapped Canadian tourists and a German in the southern Philippines have surrendered to authorities, officials said on Friday.

Almujer Yadah and Bensito Quitino surrendered to military officers in the southern Sulu province town of Jolo and handed over their assault rifles, said Sulu’s military commander Major General Ignatius Patrimonio and other security officials. Authorities did not provide details of how and when the surrenders were organized.

The two were briefly introduced at a press conference at an army camp in Jolo and then handed over to the police.

Sulu province police chief Colonel Jaime Mojica said they will face multiple murders and other criminal charges, including violating the country’s anti-terrorism law. Militants are accused of beheading hostages after failing to secure the large ransoms they demanded.

They were also involved in other ransom kidnappings and bomb attacks, Mojica said.

Canadian tourists Robert Hall and John Ridsdel were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf snipers from a marina in southern Samal Island along with a Norwegian and a Filipino in September 2015 and taken to jungle camps in Sulu.

Hall and Ridsdel were beheaded by the militants months later, after the ransom deadline had expired. Videos released by the militants showed the victims being brutally killed in front of an Islamic State-style black flag. The Norwegian and Filipino hostages were finally freed.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time that he was horrified by the killings and affirmed Canada’s refusal to “pay ransoms for hostages of terrorist groups as it would endanger the lives of more Canadians”. He said Canada is working with the Philippine government “to pursue those responsible for these heinous acts and bring them to justice, no matter how long it takes.”

Other key suspects in the kidnappings and murders of Hall and Ridsdel were previously killed in clashes with Philippine forces.

Mojica said the two militants were also involved in the 2017 beheading in Sulu of German hostage Jurgen Gustav Kantner. Gunmen from Abu Sayyaf captured Kantner at gunpoint and killed a woman who was sailing with him off the neighboring Malaysian state of Sabah. Later, villagers found a dead woman on a yacht with a German flag on Sulu’s Laparan Island.

The United States and the Philippines labeled Abu Sayyaf a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings. The small but brutal group emerged in the early 1990s as an extremist offshoot of a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern Philippines, homeland of Muslim minorities in the largely Roman Catholic nation.

The Abu Sayyaf has been weakened considerably by decades of military offensives, surrenders and infighting, and is currently estimated by the military at fewer than 200 armed fighters, but it remains a threat to national security.

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