MANILA: The Philippine military on Monday said that close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces led to the arrest of two notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leaders involved in high-profile crimes.
The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the two arrested ASG sub-leaders as Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, who led the kidnapping of several local and foreign nationals, including two European birdwatchers.
Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., Wesmincom commander, said that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) responded to information provided by the Philippine military’s Joint Task — Force Sulu (JTF-Sulu) about the presence of the ASG militants in the area, after which a special police operation was launched.
At 3 a.m. on May 8, Bensio and Binda were arrested in Jalan Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, Sabah, while six of their followers were also nabbed in the operation.
JTF-Sulu commander, Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, said that the arrest of the suspects was a result of intensive intelligence build-up conducted by the 4th Marine Brigade under the command of Col. Hernanie Songano.
Gonzales said that Bensio was involved in the 2012 kidnapping of birdwatchers Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, and Ewold Horn, a Dutch national.
Vinciguerra was rescued after he managed to escape from his captors when government troops attacked the jungle camp where they were being held in 2014.
Horn, on the other hand, was kept hostage by the bandit group for seven years and was killed by one of his guards when he tried to escape during a clash between the group and soldiers in March 2019.
Meanwhile, Bensio and Binda were both part of the group that snatched three Indonesian fishermen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, on Sept. 23, 2019.
All three were rescued in separate operations conducted by the military a few months later.
Besides the foreign nationals, at least 10 Filipinos were kidnapped by the suspects.
Gonzales said that Bensio and Binda’s group were also involved in armed clashes with the military in Sulu, including the encounter in July 2011 at Sitio Tubig Magtuh, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul town where a young Marine officer, 2Lt. Michael Baladad was beheaded.
Songano said: “These ASG personalities moved to Sabah around March this year.”
“We have been closely monitoring the activities of this Eastern Sulu kidnap-for-ransom group as it is highly possible that they intend to make Sabah their staging point for their kidnapping activities,” he said in a statement.
“They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area,” he said.
Vinluas agreed, adding that intensified intelligence operations and the community’s support, along with the constant coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the ESSCOM, contributed to the “successful neutralization” of the ASG sub-leaders and their cohorts.
“The arrest of suspects is a big blow to the ASG,” he said, commending JTF-Sulu and ESSCOM for the “aggressive measures taken to ensure that these terrorists will not be able to conduct horrendous activities anymore, particularly off the waters of Sabah.”
Gonzales warned the group against hampering peace in Sulu.
“Whether they seek refuge in nearby provinces or outside our area of operations, if they have caused atrocities or continue to spoil our peace initiatives here in Sulu — they will surely be made accountable and face the rule of law,” he said.