Guns, boat seized as Philippine troops chase Abu Sayyaf

By Hader Glang & Roy Ramos

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – Philippine security forces have recovered an arms cache and a speedboat while pursuing Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf militants held responsible for the beheading of a Canadian hostage earlier this week.

A spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command said Saturday that the items belonging to the Abu Sayyaf were seized Friday on two islands of the predominantly Muslim southern province of Tawi-Tawi.

“A caliber 60 machine gun, a .50 caliber Browning machine gun, four M-16AI automatic rifles, one M-79 grenade launcher, a US carbine, one .38 caliber revolver, one .357 Magnum revolver, and an M-16AI with an M-203 grenade launcher were recovered by the troops,” Major Filemon Tan Jr. said in a statement.

“This operation was conducted as part of the focused military operations to prevent lawless activities in the area,” he added.

Authorities suspect the speedboat had been used by the Abu Sayyaf in cross-border kidnappings.

The seizure was announced after a bomb rigged to a small truck exploded Friday night in front of a church in Lamitan City in the neighboring island province of Basilan, according to police.

Tan said that the bombing — which resulted in no injuries — could have been a diversionary tactic by Abu Sayyaf members who are being pursued following the recent slaying of 68-year-old Canadian John Ridsdel in nearby Sulu province.

President Benigno Aquino III has promised to use the full resources of the country against the group to rescue the remaining hostages, including two other foreigners and a Filipina kidnapped alongside Ridsdel in September, and to ensure the safety of the civilian population.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.