Saturday, April 18, 2009

Swiss Red Cross hostage rescued in Philippines

A photo released by the Sulu Provincial Government showed Swiss national Andreas Notter, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, after policemen and armed villagers rescued him from the Abu Sayyaf in Indanan town in Sulu province on Saturday, April 18, 2009. Notter is presented by Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan to Interior Secy. Ronaldo Puno and Defense chief Gilberto Toeodoro. The Abu Sayyaf is still holding Italian Red Cross hostage Eugenio Vagni, both men and Filipino aid worker Mary Jean Lacaba were kidnapped January 15 in Sulu. Lacaba was freed on April 2 in Indanan town. (Best available photo / Caption by the Mindanao Examiner)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 18) – Police forces and armed civilians have rescued Saturday one of two foreign Red Cross workers kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

Swiss national Andreas Notter was rescued as the Abu Sayyaf tried to spirit him from police cordon at around 5.30 a.m. in Indanan town, sources said. Aside from the Swiss, the Abu Sayyaf is still holding Italian hostage Eugenio Vagni, but he was not with the group that held Notter.

Policemen and armed villagers, led by Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim, the Sulu police chief, were guarding the area when they spotted Notter along with a group of armed men and pursued them until the Swiss hostage was rescued.

“The Abu Sayyaf guards were overwhelmed by police forces and armed villagers and they had no choice but to leave Notter behind. He was later brought to the house of Governor Sakur Tan, who is the head of the crisis management committee,” said one source privy to the rescue operation.

It was unknown how the Abu Sayyaf managed to pass through a military cordon in the town’s jungle undetected by soldiers.

But hundreds of policemen and armed village guards have also put up a cordon near the highways in Indanan to prevent the Abu Sayyaf from escaping. It was near the area where they intercepted Notter’s group.

The military insisted troops found Notter and that he was abandoned by the Abu Sayyaf because of pressure exerted by the cordon set up by soldiers in the jungle.

Tan presented the freed hostage to Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro and Interior Secy. Ronaldo Puno at his house. They later held a press conference at the Provincial Capitol where Notter thanked the authorities for his rescue.

“I would like to thank you all. I know all of you have a lot of sacrifices. I would like to thank the authorities of course, the security forces, thank very much,” Notter said.

He said Vagni is still alive, but is very ill. “Eugenio Vagni is injured. He must be released as soon as possible,” Notter said.

Tan said Notter was rescued and brought to his home where the Swiss man was given food. “He is okay and we are glad that he was rescued safely,” he said.

While in Tan’s house, Notter was served with lobster, crabs, fish, chicken and steamed rice.

Notter was later flown by a helicopter to a military base in Zamboanga City, but the ICRC barred journalists from taking his photos.

Manila said government negotiations were continuing for the safe release of the hostages. Provincial governor Sakur Tan said Muslim clerics are now helping in efforts to convince the terrorists to Notter and Vagni who were seized January 15 along with Filipino aid worker Mary Jean Lacaba.

The woman was released on April 2 after a series of negotiations.

Authorities said the Italian hostage is ill and suffering from hernia, a general term used to describe a bulge or protrusion of an organ through the structure or muscle that usually contains it.

More policemen were sent to Sulu early this week to help secure the area where the hostages are being held captive.

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 those holding 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 US has offered at least $16 million rewards for their capture. (Mindanao Examiner)

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