Abu Sayyaf beheads German hostage

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Intensified military operations in Sulu failed to stop notorious local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf from killing its German hostage as the deadline it set for a P30 million ($600,000) ransom lapsed.

The German embassy in the Philippines confirmed it was Juergen Kantner in the beheading video that circulated on Monday, February 27, according to chief presidential peace adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza. Rappler had access to the 1-minute, 43-second video that was reportedly released on social media application Telegram.

Kantner is the 3rd foreigner to be beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf in the last 10 months. The bandits beheaded two Canadian hostages in 2016 also after ransom payment deadlines lapsed.

"We grieve as we strongly condemn the barbaric beheading of yet another kidnap victim, German Juergen Gustav Kantner, in Sulu Sunday afternoon," Dureza said in a statement issued early evening on Monday.

"Terrorism has no place in a country like ours and we as a people must confront violent extremism every time it rears its ugly head," added Dureza, who sought the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in ending Abu Sayyaf's atrocities in Sulu. 

The military also confirmed the beheading in a statement issued at 11 p.m. on Monday. "We have finally received information from reliable sources confirming that Mr Juergen Gustav Kantner was mercilessly and inhumanly murdered by the evil Abu Sayyaf Group," said Colonel Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the government will continue efforts to stop atrocities committed by the Abu Sayyaf, the group that the military aims to crush by June 2017. 

Lorenzana disapproves of paying ransom, which families of victims have commonly resorted to. "It is money. For as long as ransom are being paid, kidnapping remains profitable. We will stop these piracy and kidnappings," the defense chief told Rappler. 

Kantner appeared in a video two weeks ago to announce the February 26 deadline that the bandits set for his beheading if ransom was not paid. 

The subgroup led by Muammar Askali or Abu Rami was reportedly behind the beheading, the same group that was also behind the kidnapping of a German couple in 2014. The couple was released after P250 million in ransom was reportedly paid.

The military launched operations to try to free the hostages, but failed to save Kantner. Arevalo said the military lost "some of our best men in the process" but they commit to pursue all-out offensive against the local terrorist group.

"There will be no let up in our operations until we have rescued all the remaining kidnap victims," Arevalo said. (READ: Lorenzana: Abu Sayyaf still holding 25 hostages)

Dureza said the Philippine government had been in close contact with German authorities as state forces tried to rescue the hostages. 

"Up to the last moment, many sectors, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, exhausted all efforts to save his life. We all tried our best. But to no avail," he said.

As early as Sunday night, February 26, Dureza revealed he received a report from Joint Task Force Sulu commander Colonel Cirilito Sobejana about Kantner's alleged beheading but the verification took time. 

The military on November 7 last year reported finding Kantner's yacht, Rockall, adrift off the southern Philippines.

The body of a woman with a bullet wound, later identified by the hostage as his partner, Sabine Merz, was found on board the vessel.

Upon Duterte's orders, the military has shifted its focus back to its counter-terrorism campaign. (READ: PH military keeps eye on ISIS-linked terror groups amid NPA clashes)

The Abu Sayyaf is a notorious kidnap-for-ransom gang that has pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS).

It is made up of several small armed bands based in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo, where it is also holding a Dutch and foreign crew members of several other vessels.

It is blamed for the Philippines' deadliest bombing attacks as well as dozens of kidnappings-for-ransom. – Rappler.com

Editor's note: In an earlier version of this report, we said Kantner's beheading is the 3rd under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The beheading of two Canadians happened during the campaign period and right before Duterte's inauguration, respectively.