Two Muslim women look at a military truck carrying troops in Sulu province in southern Philippines. Military intelligence reports say Abu Sayyaf militants have put up roadblocks and checkpoints in Patikul town and collecting forced taxation on Muslim villagers on Wednesday. Two policemen rest in Patikul town during a peace caravan Saturday, January 19, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photos/Arthur Abasolo and Jun Delgado)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 23, 2008) – Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants have put up roadblocks in the southern Filipino province of Sulu and were extorting illegal taxation from Muslim villagers.
The militant, mostly members of an Abu Sayyaf faction from Basilan province, were spotted in the town of Patikul and had attempted to kidnap local construction workers, according to military intelligence reports.
It was unclear how the attempted kidnapping occur, but another report said one Muslim engineer Jumlail Esmael was almost abducted after he was stopped at a checkpoint, but had negotiated his way to freedom. It was not immediately known whether the man paid money or not.
It said the gunmen, numbering more than 100 had split into several groups near the village of Taung and were collecting so-called “revolutionary taxes.” One report said the Abu Sayyaf is also holding in the town of Indanan a Muslim teacher it kidnapped in Tawi-Tawi province on January 15.
It was unknown whether the hostage was Omar Taup, a Notre Dame teacher kidnapped in the village of Likud Tabawan in Tawi-Tawi’s South Ubian town. A Catholic priest, Jesus Reynaldo Roda, was killed by the Abu Sayyaf during the kidnapping.
Last week, suspected Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped a junk shop worker and was only freed after his employer paid about P200,000 ransom.
The latest military intelligence reports came just days after the military ordered the pull out of all army troops and redeployed them in the province of Lanao del Norte as part of a new strategy in combating terrorism.
The Philippine Marines have taken over the functions of the army in anti-insurgency operation in Sulu, but dozens of their soldiers were killed by the Abu Sayyaf and Moro National Liberation Front rebels in fierce clashes since last year.
Villagers were worried that the redeployment of army troops would trigger the return of Abu Sayyaf to Sulu province, where security forces are pursuing several Jemaah Islamiya bombers, including Indonesian militant Dulmatin and Umar Patek, blamed for several bombings in the province.
Jakarta tagged both men as behind the deadly 2001 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. (With a report from Nickee Butlangan)