CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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Military massacred by the Abu Sayyaf

MANILA (UCAN): The deaths of 18 soldiers, who perished during a showdown with the Islamist group, the Abu Sayyaf, on April 9 in the southern Philippine island of Basilan, angered Bishop Martin Jumoad.

“I am really depressed and angry at why our soldiers are killed like chickens at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf,” the bishop of Basilan said. “What is happening to our government?”

Military reports say that 18 government troops and five Abu Sayyaf members, including a foreigner, were killed, while 73 other soldiers and Abu Sayyaf were wounded in a fierce gun battle in Tipo-Tipo town on the weekend of April 9 and 10.

Bishop Jumoad is urging the government to revisit and reevaluate why the soldiers have failed to overcome the Abu Sayyaf after almost two decades of military operations against the terrorist group.

The Abu Sayyaf has carried out a number of bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, and are believed to be holding 14 foreign hostages.

Security forces in the town of Jolo recovered a former Italian priest, Rolando del Torchio, who was abducted in October 2015 from a café that he ran in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte, on April 8.

The kidnappers, however, threatened to execute two Canadian hostages, John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, as well as a Norwegian national, Kjartan Sekkingstad.

The three men appeared in a video in March pleading to their governments to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers.

The governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Hataman, said the April 9 firefight “once again reminds us that there are those among us who still tread the path of terror, and those who would stop at nothing to breed hatred and suffering among our people.”

Hataman added, “We will not cease in our efforts towards peace and we condemn this act that betrays our faith and our values, an act to which we will respond with justice swiftly and rightfully served.”

A military spokesperson, Filemon Tan, said a Moroccan national, Mohammad Khattab, who is believed to have been an improvised explosive device instructor and an inflammatory preacher, was among those killed in the encounter in Basilan.

Tan said Khattab was “trying to organise and unite local lawless armed groups and kidnap-for-ransom groups to link with international terrorist groups, as well as spread radicalism and extremism.”

Tan said in a statement, “After we grieve for our soldiers, we shall continue the fight to win the peace for our people.”

He added, “Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and can secure a peaceful and bright future.”

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council for having ties to al-Qaida, has demanded a US$21 million ($1.628 million) ransom for each of the captives.

The Philippine military estimates that the group has about 300 to 400 men, mostly in Basilan and Sulu.

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