Sunday, July 12, 2009

Terrorists free Italian hostage in the Philippines

Freed Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni at a military base Sunday, July 12, 2009 in Jolo town in Sulu province in southern Philippines. And after his arrival in Zamboanga City en route to Manila where his anxious family and friends are waiting. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Nickee Butlangan).

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 12, 2009) – Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants have freed Before dawn Sunday an Italian aid worker kidnapped in January in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, police said.

Police said Eugenio Vagni was released to Sulu deputy governor Nur Ana Sahidulla at around 1.15 a.m. near Parang town. Vagni, the last of three Red Cross workers kidnapped by the militants, was brought to a military hospital in Jolo town where doctors examiner the 62-year old aid worker.

It was unknown if ransom was paid for Vagni’s liberty, but the militants originally demanded as much as $2 million for his safe release. No other details were made available by the police and security officials did not give any statement.

ABS-CBN television, which quoted unnamed sources, reported that the military would swap two wives of an Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad for Vagni.

The two women, Rowena Aksan and Nursima Annudden, were arrested at a military checkpoint in Tagbak village in Indanan town on Tuesday along with four other militants Rabia Asiri, Marwina Salasain, Madrimar Bagadi and Midsfar Aksan. Soldiers also seized from them more than P300,000.

The six were also implicated in the kidnappings of Vagni and two other Red Cross workers, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba.

Both Notter and Lacaba were freed separately in April by the Abu Sayyaf, but there were suspicions that ransoms were paid for their liberty. The Red Cross denied it paid ransoms.

The Abu Sayyaf had previously used ransoms collected from kidnappings to purchase weapons and finance terror attacks in Sulu and Mindanao.

Just barely two months after the Abu Sayyaf freed Lacaba and Notter, a series of bombings occurred in Mindanao that left scores of people dead and wounded. Authorities blamed the attacks to the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya.

It was not immediately known whether the supposed ransoms paid for the release of the aid workers were used to finance the bombings.

Military and police intelligence reports said several Jemaah Islamiya terrorists are among the Abu Sayyaf that kidnapped Vagni’s group - 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.

The United States listed the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaan Islamiya as foreign terrorist groups alongside with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Philippine authorities said the Jemaah Islamiya terrorists fled to Mindanao 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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