Extremists claim they’ll kill hostages if rescue attempt spotted
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Faced with the president’s pledge to wipe them out, a Muslim guerrilla group that abducted 20 people, including three Americans, threatened Tuesday to kill the hostages if the military mounts a rescue effort.
The threats and counter-threats escalated with no clear indication of where the Abu Sayyaf separatist guerrillas have taken the Americans and Filipino hostages seized over the weekend. The kidnappers vanished in boats speeding across the Sulu Sea.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said her government is at war with the Abu Sayyaf, which embarrassed the country with a series of kidnapping standoffs that endured for months last year – including the abduction of tourists from a Malaysian resort.
The Abu Sayyaf has killed hostages in the past, including two teachers who were beheaded last year after the government cracked down on the group with a series of military offensives.
”If we encounter the military and find out they are operating against us, we will kill all the hostages,” Abu Sabaya, a rebel leader, said in a statement he made by satellite phone to the Radio Mindanao Network.
During the past kidnappings, the rebels often used the privately owned radio to pass messages.
”We are ready to die fighting. This is suicide,” Abu Sabaya told station manager Rey Bayoging. ”The government knows what to do. The government knows our capability.”
Arroyo has vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf. The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a separate Muslim state in the south of the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.
The military said Tuesday it was preparing troops to move if the guerrillas and their hostages are spotted.
”To Abu Sayyaf, it’s good for you to release all your hostages because if not, bullets will rain on you,” Arroyo said Tuesday. ”To the family of hostages seized by rebels – we’re doing everything we can to save your relatives.”
She declared a news blackout on details of military operations and urged journalists to stay away from any rescue efforts, pointing out that Abu Sayyaf took captive some reporters during an earlier hostage crisis.
”When there is a war, you know what the priorities are, and there is a war in that part of the Philippines,” Arroyo said.
Sabaya has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the 20 hostages from the Dos Palmas Island Resort off Palawan Island early Sunday.
Sabaya said he had split the hostages into two groups and moved them to Basilan and Sulu provinces. But the military said Tuesday it wasn’t convinced that the rebels eluded an air and sea search, and that they might be hiding on Cagayan de Tawi Tawi island, roughly halfway between Palawan and the southern islands where the Abu Sayyaf normally operates.
Arroyo said she had a no-ransom policy and has offered $2 million in rewards for capture of Abu Sayyaf leaders and members.
Two of the Americans seized Sunday – Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan. – are Protestant missionaries who have lived in the Philippines since 1986. The third American was identified as Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif.
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