German doc made to sit inside grave Abu Sayyaf dug
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Viktor Stefan Okonek, a 71-year-old German doctor being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf terrorists, on Wednesday said he had been sitting in a “deep hole” with 10 other men since Tuesday.
“They told me this is my grave. They pushed me inside this hole and I am sitting here with 10 men since [Tuesday night],” Okonek told Radio Mindanao Network’s Alarma 900 here.
“I’m here in a hole. It’s a big hole 3 meters (10 ft) [by] 5 meters,” Okonek said. “ … I hope I will still get out of here … but I have not seen anyone from the government to get into the situation that tries to get us out.”
The terrorists have been demanding P250 million ($5.6 million) for the release of Okonek and a German woman companion, Henrite Dieter, and for Germany to withdraw support from the multination action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Abu Rami, spokesman of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron, said his group would execute the doctor at 3 p.m. on Friday if the ransom had not been paid by then.
The ultimatum remains on Friday, Rami said on the phone, adding that Okonek would be buried in the grave if negotiations would go awry.
“We will bury him if the ransom demand is not met and Germany does not withdraw its support for the air strikes in Iraq and Syria,” he said.
Okonek and Dieter, 42, were seized by the Abu Sayyaf in April when their yacht broke down in Palawan province en route to Sabah in eastern Malaysia. They are being held on Jolo Island, hotbed of the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group.
Okonek has been separated from Dieter, Rami said. “We don’t want her to see the actual execution,” he added.
“They told me on Friday they would kill me,” the doctor said in the radio interview. It was the second time the German has spoken to commercial radio since last Friday’s deadline passed.
Rami said a video of Okonek’s execution would be posted after Friday.
Okonek said he was getting very weak because there was not enough food and 10 gunmen were watching over him 24 hours a day.
In a video provided by the kidnappers, Okonek can be heard crying while being physically abused. Some gunmen also slapped him.
Rami said local contacts identified with Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima had been trying to negotiate for the release of the captives. But he said the Abu Sayyaf only wanted to talk to representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
An Inquirer source said Purisima went to Sulu province on Tuesday and tried to establish contacts with the Abu Sayyaf through local politicians. However, Chief Supt. Noel de los Reyes, police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, denied the information.
“[We have] not initiated any talks with the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) or with any other criminal group/s nor is there any plan of doing so in the forward periods,” De los Reyes said in a text message to the Inquirer.
No troop pullout
Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Armed Forces chief of staff, has deployed seven battalions of soldiers and Marines to Sulu and will not pull out the troops from Sulu despite the threat of the Abu Sayyaf to behead the German hostage by Friday.
“We should take them seriously,” Catapang said of the bandits in Manila. “Our intelligence is on the ground validating information and [trying] to locate them.”
He said the military was prepared to conduct the rescue operation and was just waiting for the go-signal to launch it as negotiations for the safe release of the hostages were being conducted on the local level.
Lt. Gen. John Bonafos, AFP vice chief of staff, said the provincial peace and order committee had already been activated to address the issue.
Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan is in charge of the committee which shall then relay to the AFP whatever its recommendation on the issue, including the go-signal for a rescue mission, Bonafos said.–With a report from Cynthia D. Balana in Manila