Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sayyaf trapped in Sulu jungle; no words from Red Cross hostages

04/01/2009 | 11:28 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Security forces have cordoned off a huge area in the jungle of Sulu province, trapping Abu Sayyaf terrorists holding hostage three Red Cross workers, officials said.

An Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad have repeatedly threatened to behead the hostages – Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba – if security forces do not withdraw from at least five towns.

Marine Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, commander of military forces in-charge of the operation to safely free the aid workers, said they have reports that all the hostages are alive.

“We have reports that the hostages are all alive. Military forces have encircled the jungle of Indanan town where the Abu Sayyaf is holed out. They are trapped, but they are also highly mobile," Allaga said.

The kidnappers have been reported radioing for reinforcements from other Abu Sayyaf groups in Sulu and Basilan provinces, anticipating a possible show down with military forces should Manila orders a rescue operation.

Allaga said the deployment of troops around Indanan have prevented Abu Sayyaf forces from Patikul town in merging with Parad’s group.

The Abu Sayyaf warned it would behead one hostage on Monday at 2 p.m. if the government fails to pull out security forces.

The trio was kidnapped on January 15 after inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison in Patikul town. Police said a former jail guard, Raden Abu, led the group that kidnapped the aid workers and handed them over to the Abu Sayyaf days later. Abu was dismissed after 10 prisoners escaped from jail on January 13.

The latest video released last week by the Abu Sayyaf showed the three hostages tied together and behind them about a dozen gunmen clad in what appeared to be new Army uniform and their faces covered, except for Parad, who is also the group’s spokesman.

The video also showed Parad’s group now equipped with dozens of rifle grenades, M203 grenade launchers and machine guns. In previous videos, they were armed only with several grenade launchers and a few munitions.

It was not immediately known who were supplying weapons and provisions to the Abu Sayyaf.

Military and police intelligence reports said among those holding the aid workers are members of the Indonesian terror group Jema’ah Islamiyah.

JI militants led by Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan is believed to be among the Abu Sayyaf holding the hostages. Two more JI terrorists Dulmatin and Umar Patek are also said to be hiding in Sulu.

Zulkifli, who also heads the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), was believed to be involved in multiple deadly bomb attacks in the Philippines and has been added to most-wanted list of the U.S. Rewards for Justice Program.

The U.S. offered as much as $5-million bounty for the capture of Zulkifli and other known Abu Sayyaf leaders, while Dulmatin carries a $10-million reward on his head and $1-million for Patek. Manila also put aside P100-million bounties for the capture of Abu Sayyaf leaders dead or alive.

The provincial governor of Sulu, Sakur Tan, on Monday declared a state of emergency after the Abu Sayyaf ultimatum for a military pull out ended. Tan said military and police will arrest suspected Abu Sayyaf members and their supporters in a bid to crack down on terrorism in Sulu, one of six provinces that comprise the Muslim autonomous region. - GMANews.TV

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