Sunday, April 19, 2009

Police tightens security in Philippine province after rescue of Red Cross hostage

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 19, 2009) – Philippine authorities on Sunday tightened security around the town of Indanan in the southern Sulu province after the police rescue of a Swiss Red Cross hostage from the hands of Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

Police and armed village guards rescued Andreas Notter on Saturday morning after the Abu Sayyaf tried to slip from a cordon. Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni is still being held by the Abu Sayyaf and security officials said the captive is ill and suffering from hernia.

Bad weather and continuous rains are taking its toll on security forces guarding the cordon in Indanan town, but soldiers and policemen, including armed villagers continue to guard the town to prevent the kidnappers from escaping.

“We are more alert now after the failed escape of the Abu Sayyaf and the rescue of Notter. We have tightened the security cordon in Indanan and civilian volunteers are helping us guards the area to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping with their hostage,” said Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the provincial police chief.

Notter said he and Vagni were separated by the Abu Sayyaf on Friday for a still unknown reason. Police intelligence reports also said that Vagni is alive, according to Kasim.

Notter and Vagni were kidnapped along with another Red Cross worker, Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba on January 15 after inspecting a humanitarian project at a prison in Patikul town. The woman was freed on April 2 amidst allegations that a huge ransom was paid to the Abu Sayyaf.

More policemen were sent to Sulu recently to augment thousands of soldiers and local police force to help secure the area where the hostages are being held.

The Abu Sayyaf has repeatedly threatened to kill the remaining hostages if the military and police do not pull out from several areas in Sulu.

Military and police intelligence reports said several Jemaah Islamiya terrorists are among the Abu Sayyaf that kidnapped the aid workers - Mauiya, Dulmatin, Zulkifli bin Hir and Umar Patek - who are all wanted by Indonesia for the spate of deadly attacks, including the Bali bombing in 2002. The United States has offered at least $16 million rewards for their capture.

The terrorists, in many occasions, had negotiated directly with the hostages’ families and the International Committee of the Red Cross and probably foreign governments for the safe release of their captives.

But it was unknown whether ransoms were paid to the Abu Sayyaf or Jemaah Islamiya either in Indonesia or Malaysia or even in the Philippines in exchange for the release of the aid workers.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan had repeatedly warned private negotiators against paying ransoms to the Abu Sayyaf, saying, the money would only finance terrorism and more kidnappings in the southern Philippines.

In 2001, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 mostly Western holidaymakers and Asian resort workers in a daring cross-border raid in Malaysia’s Sipadan Island and collected millions of dollars in ransoms from Libya which helped negotiate for the release of the hostages.

The group also kidnapped wealthy traders and civilians and ransomed them off and those who refused to pay are beheaded.

The Abu Sayyaf, whose name means “bearer of the sword” in Arabic, split from the larger Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996.

The United States listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization that boasts of ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, as well as the Indonesian network of Jemaah Islamiya.

Philippine authorities said the Jemaah Islamiya terrorists fled to the southern Philippines the past years where they sought refuge under the protection of the Abu Sayyaf and rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group. (Mindanao Examiner)

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