Philippines' Duterte Makes U-Turn on Peace Talks With ISIS Affiliate

Philippine troops fighting against Abu Sayyaf
Philippine soldiers stand guard next to an Armored Personnel Carrier inside a military camp as they prepare for an operation against the extremist Abu Sayyaf group, Jolo, Sulu province, September 5. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday that he could hold peace talks with Abu Sayyaf, the Islamist group that has pledged its support for ISIS and continues to wage an insurgency against Philippine authorities. Mark Navales/AFP/Getty

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appeared Friday to make a U-turn on peace talks with Abu Sayyaf, the radical Islamist militant group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and beheaded two Canadian nationals this year.

Speaking on a visit to wounded soldiers at a military hospital in the southern city of Zamboanga, the firebrand leader appealed to the group to come to the negotiating table for the good of the population, and appeared to suggest that he would consider federalism for the country's Muslim minorities.

"We cannot be forever treating human beings here, seriously wounded," he told reporters. "Let us talk. Let us give our people a chance."

Duterte has previously said that he could not negotiate with Abu Sayyaf, which mainly operates in the southern Philippines, because they are primarily motivated by their criminal activities. But he said Friday that strikes against the group would not improve the situation for ordinary Filipinos. Since coming to power, he has ordered a military operation against Abu Sayyaf and a deadly campaign against Filipino drug gangs.

"I can bomb more if I want to," Duterte said. "At the end of the day, what can I say to the Filipino? That we have wiped out almost all of our Yakan, Sama, Tausug [Muslim] brothers? Even those not connected with the violence now?"

He continued: "Either we talk, if you want autonomy or if you want something else, federalism, I am ready. I am committed to [the] federalism set-up to appease the Moro," he said, referring to Filipino Muslims.

Abu Sayyaf uses kidnap and ransom demands to fund its activities. It has kidnapped more than a dozen Indonesian and Malaysian sailors this year, boarding boats off the Philippine coast, and seven people remain in its possession, alongside a Dutch national, a German national and seven Filipinos.

It beheaded Canadian national John Ridsdel in April in the southern province of Sulu after a ransom deadline passed, and also beheaded his fellow countryman Robert Hall in June. Canada has a policy of not paying the ransom demands of extremists.

But the group is also responsible for the most deadly extremist attack in Filipino history: the 2004 Superferry 14 bombing that left 116 people dead. The U.S. has designated the group as an extremist organization.