Freeing Sayyaf hostages main goal
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines— The fate of at least eight hostages still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf depends on the heightened military offensive against the terror group that the armed forces admitted was aimed primarily at freeing the captives.
“This is actually the very basic intent of the operation,” said Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, head of the Western Mindanao Command based here. “It is to rescue them (the hostages),” he added.
Still being kept captive by the Abu Sayyaf, a group with links to the international terror network al-Qaida, are Ronnie Sandagon, Filipino and fish dealer from Zamboanga City; Michelle Panes, Filipino and businesswoman from Zamboanga City; Toshio Ito, a Japanese treasure hunter, seized on July 16, 2010; Dina Lim and daughter Yahong Tan Lim, Chinese nationals who were seized on May 22 in Basilan province; Ewold Horn, Dutch national and bird watcher, seized more than two years ago; Kons Zakiah Aleip, a Malaysian policeman, seized in Sabah in July; and Chan Sai Chuin, a Chinese national, also seized in Sabah on June 26.
Horn’s fellow hostage and bird watcher, Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, had escaped from the Abu Sayyaf by overpowering his guard as the military attacked the group’s camp in Sulu province.
“We are confirming if the other hostages were able to escape, but the operation (against the Abu Sayyaf) is continuous so we will keep you updated,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero did not identify who among the hostages were expected by the military to escape, but the hostage last seen alive was Horn, who was with Vinciguerra when Vinciguerra escaped.
After his escape, Vinciguerra, 49, said he and Horn had planned to escape together during the military strike but Horn was too weak to walk, much less run.
Vinciguerra, during a debriefing session with military officials following his escape, said he had tried carrying Horn on his back but Horn refused.
“Horn said, ‘You go first, I can no longer walk,’” Col. Alan Arrojado, head of the Joint Task Group Sulu, quoted Vinciguerra as saying.
Arrojado said Vinciguerra feared Horn would be harmed by the Abu Sayyaf.
The Abu Sayyaf continues to thrive in at least two provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)—Basilan and Sulu—despite a sizeable amount of support given to the Philippine military’s antiterror campaign by the US government.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman had asked the armed forces to launch an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf that had alarmed human rights groups, which warned against indiscriminate arrests and killings as a result of the campaign.
The military, however, said the ongoing campaign against the Abu Sayyaf had been careful in targeting only members of the terror group. Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao
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