Abu Sayyaf has followed through on a promise to kill Canadian hostage John Ridsdel, who the group took hostage in the Philippines seven months ago.
The Canadian government has confirmed Ridsdel, a 68-year-old former mining executive, was killed Monday after the terrorist group’s latest ransom deadline passed. The fate of the other Canadian hostage, Robert Hall is unknown.
Timeline of John Ridsdel’s kidnapping and execution in the Philippines
Kidnappings of 3 Westerners a reminder of conflicts and misery troubling Philippines
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The Islamist organization kidnapped Ridsdel and Hall from Samal Island, off the east coast of the larger island of Mindanao, on Sept. 21, along with Marites Flor, Hall’s reported Filipina partner, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, the manager of the resort marina from where the group was taken hostage.
What is the group known for?
Abu Sayyaf, which Canada lists as a designated terrorist organization, emerged in the 1990s.
Abu Sayyaf carried out the “biggest act to terrorism” in the Philippines history when it took responsibility for a 2004 ferry bombing that left more than 100 people dead.
But, it’s the kidnapping of foreigners that has become one of its main tactics — especially as of late.
Ridsdel and Hall were by no means the first foreigners the group has kidnapped.
READ MORE: Timeline of John Ridsdel’s kidnapping and execution in the Philippines
In fact, there are four groups of hostages Abu Sayyaf is holding in its stronghold on the southern Sulu province — a a chain of islands that stretches south from Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines, to the northern tip of Malaysian Borneo.
According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, there are as many as 22 people being held among the four groups of hostages, including 10 sailors from Indonesia, a second group of four Indonesians captured from a cargo vessel and a group of four Malaysian sailors.
But, in the past month, Abu Sayyaf militants are known to have executed at least five hostages — including the beheading of Ridsdel.
In what has become a sort of morbid signature of the group’s savagery, Ridsdel’s head was left in a plastic bag in a community on Jolo island, where the group’s stronghold is located, five hours after the ransom deadline passed, according to GMA News Online.
What is the Philippine government doing to combat Abu Sayyaf?
As the ransom deadline neared — Abu Sayyaf was demanding approximately $8 million for him, Hall and the two other hostages — the Philippine military launched an operation to free the four hostages.
That followed an April 10 attempt to free the hostages, in which Philippine forces moved into the Jolo stronghold. But clashes with as many as 100 Abu Sayyaf militants left at least 18 soldiers dead — four of them were beheaded — and more than 50 others injured.
According to BBC, only five Abu Sayyaf fighters died — one of whom was from Morocco.
Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon is wanted by the U.S. government for his alleged role in “terrorist acts against U.S. nationals, related to a 2001 kidnapping involving three Americans, two of whom died. The U.S government has offerd a reward up to $5 million for information leading to his conviction.
Is it affiliated with the Islamic State?
Although the group had ties to al Qaeda, it has reportedly pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS. ISIS has not formally — at least not publicly — accepted Abu Sayyaf as an affiliate and analysts suggest the group’s purported allegiance would merely be a means to raise its own profile.
“Whenever the international focus shifts on an extremist group, they pledge allegiance and use the publicity for their own agenda,” Michael Buehler, a lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of London, told International Business Times in 2014.
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“[Abu Sayyaf] is still a local group with a local agenda… This is not a sign of Abu Sayyaf becoming an international group [like ISIS],” Buehler said of a video in which Abu Sayyaf leader Hapilon swore allegiance in the summer of 2014.
The most recent pledge to ISIS, came from an Abu Sayyaf battalion known as Jund al Tawhid, according to the website The Long War Journal.
“It is unclear if all of [Abu Sayyaf] has sided with the Islamic State or if individual battalions of the group continue to release videos showing their defections,” Caleb Weiss wrote for the website. “In recent hostage videos released by [Abu Sayyaf], no mention of the jihadists holding the hostages in the name of the Islamic State is made, rather the jihadists refer to themselves as being from [Abu Sayyaf]. It is unlikely that fighters loyal to the Islamic State would use the [Abu Sayyaf] moniker.”