Activists accused of beheading Canadian tourists surrender

Manila, Philippines –

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

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

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

Sulu Provincial Police Chief Colonel Jaime Mojica said they will face multiple charges of murder and other criminal charges, including violating the country’s anti-terrorism law. The militants are accused of beheading the hostages after they failed to obtain the large ransoms they had demanded.

They have also been involved in other kidnappings for ransom and bombings, Mojica said.

Canadian tourists Robert Hall and John Ridsdel were abducted by Abu Sayyaf gunmen 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 deadline for ransom payments expired. Videos released by the militants showed the brutally killed victims in front of a black Islamic State group-style flag. The Norwegian and Filipino hostages were eventually released.

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 life of a more large number of Canadians. He said Canada was working with the Philippine government “to prosecute those responsible for these heinous acts and bring them to justice, however long that takes.”

Other key suspects in the Hall and Ridsdel kidnappings and murders were killed earlier in clashes with Filipino forces.

Mojica said the two activists were also involved in the 2017 beheading in Sulu of German hostage Jurgen Gustav Kantner. Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized Kantner at gunpoint and killed a woman sailing with him off neighboring Malaysia’s Sabah state. Villagers then found a dead woman on a yacht with a German flag off Sulu’s Laparan Island.

The United States and the Philippines have 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, the homeland of minority Muslims in the majority Roman Catholic nation.

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

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