COMMANDER ROBOT A RUTHLESS KIDNAPPER

[PHOTO AT LEFT: FUGITIVE NO MORE: Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, alias Commander Robot, has his fingerprints taken by a police officer before being airlifted to Manila from the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City yesterday. - Charlie Saceda ]

MANILA, December 9, 2003 (STAR) Abu Sayyaf kingpin Galib Andang, captured in Sulu late Sunday, is a ruthless leader and chief organizer of abductions for the feared kidnap gang.

Popularly known as Commander Robot, he was the architect of the much-publicized kidnapping of 21 hostages, including Europeans and other foreigners, in the neighboring Malaysian resort of Sipadan in April 2000.

Armed with machine guns, he and other Abu Sayyaf leaders brought the hostages by speed boat to his base in Jolo and held them there for about a year.

In the end, the hostages were released, reportedly in exchange for millions of dollars in ransom paid by Libya.

Andang is known to be ruthless with his hostages, one of whom ó the son of a local doctor ó was beheaded after delays in ransom payments.

He had often posed for journalists, spraying fire from his assault rifle in the air, warning the military of serious repercussions if they attacked the groupís hideouts.

Following the Sipadan spree, Andang, believed to be in his 40s, kidnapped a local teenage girl and forced her to marry him.

The 2001 terror attacks in the United States signaled a new hard-line stance against the Abu Sayyaf, which is allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

The United States declared the Abu Sayyaf a "foreign terrorist organization" and provided training and equipment which helped the Philippine military to gradually dissipate the group.

Before joining the Abu Sayyaf, Andang was a henchman of Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari. Misuari had Andang removed from the MNLF roster in the early 1990s for Andangís involvement in extortion, drug trafficking and the attempted abduction of Oblates of Mary Immaculate missionary Clarence Bertelsman in Jolo, Sulu.

Bertelsman was celebrating Mass inside the provincial headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) at Camp Asturias when Andang attempted to abduct him.

A battle-scarred guerrilla, Andang was known for his ruthlessness against his adversaries.

Following the military blitz, Andang and the other Abu Sayyaf leaders went deeper underground and kept a low profile.

Andang is the most senior Abu Sayyaf leader to be captured since the killing of his fellow leader Mujib Susukan in February.

Andang had sent surrender feelers last year, including an offer to give up his groupís 100 M-16 rifles and other arms, but the military dismissed this as a trick.

Military chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said Andang had been planning another kidnapping to raise money when he was captured after being shot in the right foot.

"It was greed that did him in," Abaya said.

Sources in Suluís business community said Andang and his equally notorious cohort, Radulan Sahiron, were behind extortion activities in Sulu.

Andang was the focus of a manhunt by local government units and the national government, including Sulu Gov. Yusoph Jikiri, who once worked as the MNLF chief of staff before winning the gubernatorial race in Sulu.

Jikiri twice survived ambushes perpetrated by suspected followers of Andang, who brought together some 30 disgruntled rebels wanted by the MNLF revolutionary court for robbery and multiple murder.

Andang gained popularity when he and his men joined the Abu Sayyaf under Abu Sayyaf chieftain Abdurajak Janjalani. Janjalani was killed in a shootout with the police in a coastal village near Isabela City in Basilan in December 1998. ó AFP, John Unson


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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