Kidnapped soldier, Sergeant Anni Siraji, was found beheaded in the small Philippine town of Patikul on Sulu. Reuters reported that the militant group Abu Sayyaf was behind the beheading. This is the latest in a series of beheadings by the terrorist cell in the Philippines, including the video released online depicting the beheading of a German national in February this year. Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said of Sergeant Siraji that “[h]e was involved in peace efforts. He is not a combatant.” Sobejana believes Siraji’s peace efforts may have been a factor in why he was targeted.
Abu Sayyaf (which translates to “Bearer of the Sword”) have been linked to the Islamic State movement and have become more active in recent years, with an escalation in beheadings of both local and foreign nationals. Evidence suggests that when a demanded ransom is paid, the group usually responds by releasing their hostage, as reported by The Telegraph of instances in 2011, 2014 and 2015. However, in the case of Anni Siraji, it is not clear that a ransom was demanded, indicating that the action may have been retaliation to government sanctioned violence, which is criticized as only having intensified the actions of terrorists.
However, the Philippines has also experienced success with previous peace agreements between activists and officials. The Philippine Star reported in February that peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will resume this year to finalize the unresolved aspects of the 1996 Peace Agreement. The paper notes that this agreement was brokered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who have suggested that these peace talks should be combined with those of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who began negotiations at the same time as MNLF. Though progress is slow, there have been definitive successes, as seen in the integration of MNLF into the military through the peace agreement. This has reduced violence and united former enemies. The hope is to limit violence through similar negotiations with other separatist groups. Unfortunately, the aim of integration may be unattainable for Abu Sayyaf, who have pledged allegiance to the broader Islamic State terrorist organization. However, for the Philippines, if the conflict with MNLF and MILF can be resolved peacefully, and later grows with greater internal stability, they will be better prepared to address the global issue of Islamic State terrorism.
The beheading of Sergeant Siraji will likely not be the last, as Abu Sayyaf are believed to be holding many hostages to be used as leverage at any given time. Ultimately, government efforts to crack down on the group and the ensuing escalation of state-sanctioned violence has in fact acted as motivation, rather than a deterrent, for Abu Sayyaf to continue and expand its operations.
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