Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Security forces pursuing Sayyaf holding Italian hostage move deeper into Sulu jungle

With Mount Tumatangis of the Mountain of Tears, Sulu's biggest mosque, the Tulay Masjid, is covered in mist. Security forces have mounted an operation Wednesday, April 22, 2009 in Sulu's thick jungle to rescue a kidnapped Italian Red Cross worker Eugenio Vagni.

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 22, 2009) – Filipino security forces tracking down a an Italian aid worker kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in January in the southern Sulu island have moved deeper into the jungle on Wednesday with orders to rescue the hostage.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan said he has ordered soldiers and policemen to rescue Eugenio Vagni, the last of three international Red Cross workers seized January 15 in the town of Patikul where they inspected a humanitarian project at a prison facility.

“We cannot wait forever for the Abu Sayyaf to decide when to free Vagni,” he said, adding, the safety of Vagni remains his top priority.

The Abu Sayyaf had released Filipino aid worker Mary Jean Lacaba on April 2 and police forces rescued Swiss national Andreas Notter on April 18 in Sulu’s Indanan town.

American troops stationed in Sulu Island had been assisting the local military by providing intelligence about the Abu Sayyaf. Filipino authorities said several Jemaah Islamiya terrorists, among them Mauiya and probably Dulmatin, Umar Patek and Zulkifli bin Hir, are believed to be with the militants holding Vagni. The US offered as much as $18 million bounties for their capture.

Vagni is suffering from hernia and could hardly walk, Notter told authorities after his rescue. He said the Italian captive is ill.

Thousands of soldiers and policemen, including armed village guards, have surrounded a large area in Indanan’s jungle to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping with their hostage.

The Abu Sayyaf had previously threatened to behead the hostages if security do not pull out from Sulu and this prompted the governor to put the island under state of emergency and ordered a crackdown on suspected supporters of the militant group.

Police said fighting erupted on Wednesday in Talipao town, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, said Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim.

“Our forces clashed with another group of the Abu Sayyaf in Talipao. We have no immediate reports of enemy casualties,” he said.

Authorities blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the spate of bomb attacks and kidnappings-for-ransom. In 2001, the group kidnapped three US citizens from a posh resort in Palawan province in central Philippines and brought them to Basilan Island, south of Zamboanga City where they beheaded one hostage. (Mindanao Examiner)

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