MANILA, Philippines – The strength of the Abu Sayyaf rose in 2014 despite previous military claims that the capability and membership of the local terrorist group have been significantly reduced.
Military data released on Tuesday showed that the number of Abu Sayyaf members stood at 423, higher than the figures reported since 2009.
According to previous military statements, the strength of the Abu Sayyaf stood at 390 in 2009 and 340 in 2010. The group’s membership was pegged at 381 in 2011 and at 398 in 2012.
In 2013, security officials reported that the Abu Sayyaf’s strength stood at around 385.
In an interview with reporters last month, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr. admitted that the number of people aligned with the bandit group remained at around 400. He said majority of the militants are operating in Sulu.
The military, nevertheless, claimed that the Abu Sayyaf is weaker now compared to more than a decade ago.
“Their (Abu Sayyaf) manpower continued to dwindle from their original number in 2000 at 1,270 to 423 in 2014,” Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.
Cabunoc said the combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf resulted in the death and capture of a total of 69 bandits in the first nine months of 2014. A total of 36 firearms were recovered from the terrorist group during the period.
The number of violent incidents involving the bandits totaled 72 this year.
“However, their kidnapping activities remain a major concern,” Cabunoc said.
Three foreigners kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf were released this year namely German couple Stefan Viktor Okonek and Henrite Dielen and Swiss wildlife photographer Lorenzo Vinciguerra.
Officials claimed the release of the kidnap victims were due to the military’s operations but rumors that ransom were paid to secure their release persist.