MANILA, June 27 (UPI) — Rodrigo Duterte, the presiden- elect in the Philippines, has suggested holding talks with Abu Sayyaf, a militant Islamist organization that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Duterte on Friday said Abu Sayyaf has damaged the image of the Philippines by carrying out attacks and kidnappings. The group has been deemed a terrorist organization by the United Nations and United States.
Duterte said he would have “to confront the Abu Sayyaf” — calling on the kidnappings by the group to end.
“The Abu Sayyaf group, they are not my enemies,” Duterte said during a police induction ceremony. “I just want a clarification: Are they willing to talk or just fight it out?”
It would be the first time a Philippine president holds talks with a terrorist organization. Duterte will officially become the Philippine president on Thursday.
Duterte previously vowed to eliminate the group, suggesting martial law may be imposed in some areas which would allow the government to impose strict curfews and suspend civil rights.
Abu Sayyaf was previously allied to al-Qaida but pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in 2014. About 5,000 Philippine soldiers were deployed earlier this month to the country’s southern province of Sulu to track down Abu Sayyaf militants after the group beheaded two Canadian hostages.
On Friday, a Filipino woman held hostage by Abu Sayyaf was released. Marites Flor was among four people, including the two beheaded hostages, abducted nine months ago by the kidnapping-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf.
The fate of the fourth hostage, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, remains unknown. He was seized along with Flor and the two Canadians on Sept. 21 aboard yachts at a tourist resort on Samal island. They were taken to Samu, about 310 miles away.
Abu Sayyaf is said to have made a $6.4 million ransom demand for Sekkingstad’s release. A similar amount was was wanted for the Canadians. The group has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings in recent years.