Philippine President Benigno Aquino revealed Wednesday that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) affiliate group Abu Sayyaf had planned to abduct his sister, Kris Aquino, and boxing star and Congressman Manny Pacquiao.
“Threats against my own life have been investigated,” Aquino, whose term as president ends this year, told reporters Wednesday. “They allegedly even hatched plots to kidnap Manny Pacquiao or one of his children, as well as my sister Kris or one of her children, with the plan to use them in bargaining for the release of their cohorts.”
He added that the Philippines had intelligence suggesting that Abu Sayyaf was actively trying to place bombs in the capital, Manila, and increasing its jihadist engagement efforts in the hope of attracting the attention of Islamic State leadership in Raqqa, Syria, to send over money.
“We have monitored their activities, unraveled their network and arrested key players, while some of the minor players already on the run are being hunted down,” Aquino added. “I credit our security services for putting these threats to bed with both professionalism and discretion. The public may rest assured that they may go about their daily lives without fear or unease.”
The government of the Philippines has expressed increasing alarm regarding the activities of Abu Sayyaf, headquartered in the southern island of Mindanao. The group has increased maritime piracy activities, kidnapping sailors in attempts to generate ransom incomes, as well as Western citizens traveling to the south of the country.
Earlier this week, Canadian hostage John Ridsdel’s head was found on the streets of Talipao, a village in southern Sulu province. Abu Sayyaf had vowed to behead its Western hostages unless it received a random from the Canadian or Philippine government. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has responded to the beheading, vowing never to negotiate with terrorists, asserting in a statement, “I do … want to make one thing perfectly crystal clear: Canada does not and will not pay ransom to terrorists, directly or indirectly.”
Manny Pacquiao, a boxing megastar and congressman in the Philippines, would be a particularly desirable trophy for any jihadist group, particularly one based in the Philippines. The fighter is considered one of the greatest in world history, and is so acclaimed in the Philippines that he was given the honor of bearing the Philippine flag at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, despite not being eligible to participate. The Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) is seeking a way to have Pacquiao fight for the Philippines in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, though the fighter has completed a professional career.
In addition to being an athletic icon, Pacquiao is a popular politician, representing his home district of Sarangani in the Philippine Congress. He is also an outspoken Christian – a rare born-again Christian in a mostly-Catholic nation. Pacquiao has openly spoken of “hearing the voice of God.” He has said, “I can testify that there is a God. I saw two angels, white, long, big wings. I saw Paradise. God showed me about the end of time. This all happened within the last three years. That’s how I changed my life,” he told The Guardian in 2014.
The Islamic State has stated its objective is to establish a global Islamic Caliphate and eradicate all other religions, particularly Christianity, the religion of the “crusaders.” It has engaged in genocidal activities throughout Iraq and Syria against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities there.