Muslim extremists claim kidnappings from resort in southern Philippines
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A Muslim extremist group on Monday issued a veiled threat to harm 20 kidnapped tourists – including three Americans – while the Philippines president said she would use everything in her power to ”crush” the insurgents.
One of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group that kidnapped the tourists claimed responsibility in a satellite telephone call to a local radio station Monday. The rebel, named Abu Sabaya, allowed American Martin Burnham and another hostage to speak too.
”We are safe and we are appealing for a peaceful negotiations,” Burnham said. ”They are treating us well.”
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she would not give in to any ransom demands and instead offered $2 million in rewards for the capture of rebel leaders.
”I am ready to do everything to crush the bandits, to allow the hostages to safely return to their families and to bring back peace,” Arroyo said on national television.
”To the bandits … listen closely. I will finish what you have started – force against force, weapons against weapons. They will only stop hunting you when you’re all wiped out or all of you surrender,” she said.
The group kidnapped three Americans and 17 Filipinos from the upscale Dos Palmas Island Resort in Palawan province on Sunday.
The same group seized 10 foreign tourists 13 months ago from a Malaysian resort. Most were released for large ransoms, reportedly paid by Libya. The story was in the headlines for months, hurting the tourism industry and undercutting investor confidence.
Claiming he led Sunday’s dawn raid, Sabaya issued a veiled threat against the hostages, particularly the Americans.
He told radio RMN that Jeffrey Schilling, an Oakland, Calif., man whom the military freed from the Abu Sayyaf in an April raid after eight months of captivity, was not seriously harmed because he was a Muslim convert.
Burnham and his wife, Gracia, who went to the resort to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary, are both Protestant missionaries who have lived in the Philippines since 1986. They are originally from Wichita, Kan.
The third American was identified as Guillermo Sobero, of Corona, Calif.
”What I can say is we should not compare Jeffrey because Jeffrey is a Muslim, so we hesitated to hurt him. Now, we have three Americans. It is hard for us to be shamed,” Sabaya said.
Sabaya made no specific demands but said he was willing to talk to the government: ”If you want to negotiate, it’s up to you, we’re not pushing for it.”
He claimed the hostages had been split into two groups, with the Americans among 10 taken to Basilan province and the rest given to another Abu Sayyaf faction operating in nearby Sulu province.
It was the latest in a nearly constant string of serious challenges Arroyo has faced since she was swept to power Jan. 20 by the same demonstrations that forced out predecessor Joseph Estrada over corruption allegations. The stock market, already in the doldrums over unrest and uncertainty, slipped again Monday, as did the value of the peso.
Although Arroyo is talking peace with two other rebel groups, she ordered ”all-out war” on the Abu Sayyaf in early April.
But military officials say the extremists have regrouped in the last two weeks after suffering serious losses during government offensives late last year. The Abu Sayyaf apparently took advantage of the deployment of security forces meant to stem violence related to parliamentary and local elections May 14 and the ongoing counting of votes.
Dressed in military uniforms to fool security guards, the raiders ransacked the resort’s white cottages, held up by stilts in the pristine blue waters, and rounded up terrified guests and resort workers at dawn Sunday.
Resort spokesman Alan Fabian told DZMM radio that while no shots were fired, some of the captives were roughed up during the well-coordinated assault that was over in 20 minutes.
It appeared that the fleeing kidnappers slipped through a cordon of military ships and planes under the cover of darkness Sunday night, when the military suspended the air search over the open sea south of Dos Palmas.
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