Beheadings linked to torture claim
Raissa Robles in Manila
The Philippine military is investigating whether the recent beheading of five soldiers by Abu Sayyaf extremists was partly in retaliation for the alleged torture of a man authorities accused of being a member.
Dozens of Abu Sayyaf militants killed at least seven soldiers and wounded 21 others last Thursday in one of the fiercest clashes this year as the marine platoon was about to attack a terrorist jungle camp.
Five days earlier, soldiers detained Abdul-Khan Ajid, a 37-year-old baker, on the southern island of Basilan. They claimed he was Abu Sayyaf member Kanneh Malikil.
'That is part of the investigation,' said Colonel Domingo Tutaan who heads the armed forces' human rights office.
Human rights advocate Allan Pisingan also said a link between the torture in Basilan and the beheadings in neighbouring Jolo island was possible.
'We don't want to speculate but if true, it is forbidden [in Islam],' Pisingan said.
Ajid was held for four days before his family, armed with a court order, gained access to see him. He had been badly burned and his injuries were so severe that he had to be taken to a hospital immediately.
'The burns on his body are horrible. They poured gasoline on his face, his ears, his stomach, his groin and burned him,' his sister, Haniba Mussada, said.
Pisingan, of the Basilan Human Rights Network and Bantay Ceasefire, said the hospital documented Ajid's injuries.
Ajid's case led to the unprecedented 'technical arrest' of four soldiers, including a captain, for alleged torture of a suspected extremist.
'This is a strong message that the armed forces will not tolerate any violation of human rights,' Tutaan said. 'If our soldiers, regardless of rank, designation or assignment, commit torture, we will take action on the basis of law,' he said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch documented 'seven extrajudicial killings implicating the military' since President Benigno Aquino took office last year.
Tutaan said that was about to change. For the first time the military had deployed 'human rights officers' in all operational and tactical units up to battalion level, he said.
Aquino warned those who beheaded the soldiers: 'You are now No 1 on my radar.
'It might take some time, but make no mistake about it: you will be brought to justice to answer for your crimes.'