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15 January 2009

Islamic rebels kidnap Red Cross workers in Philippines

00012.jpgThree Red Cross workers, including an Italian and a Swiss national, were kidnapped by suspected Muslim rebels on a southern Philippine island yesterday, officials said.

Senator Richard Gordon, the head of the Philippine National Red Cross, told Reuters the three, who also included a Filipina woman, were travelling in a Red Cross vehicle on the island of Jolo when they were stopped and taken away by an armed group.

Marine officials and police on Jolo confirmed the incident, saying an alarm was raised when the three did not arrive to catch a flight back to the mainland that they had been booked on.

"We are in a hot pursuit operation," said Julasirim Kasim, police chief in Sulu province, of which Jolo is the capital.

A military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Steffani Cacho, said troops had recovered the Red Cross vehicle and were told by locals that the gunmen were taking the captives toward the mountainous interior of the island.

The Abu Sayyaf, the smallest and deadliest of Muslim rebel groups operating in the Philippines, was believed to be responsible, officials said.

The group is notorious for kidnappings and is based on Jolo and the nearby island of Basilan.

"I am appealing to the Abu Sayyaf to free those people, because they are neutral in any conflict," Gordon said. "They do not realise this but these people help them if they get wounded and get them out of the conflict areas."

The Abu Sayyaf has twice attacked luxury beach resorts and taken away tourists, including Westerners. They have held them for months at a time and secured large ransoms for their release.

In 2000, Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped over a dozen Western tourists from a beach resort in neighbouring Malaysia and brought them to Jolo. They then took millions of dollars in ransom.

A year later, the group attacked a luxury resort in the western Philippines and took away about 20 tourists and hotel workers. Most were freed after payment of ransom but three were beheaded, including an American, and an American missionary was killed in a shootout between the kidnappers and the army.

The Abu Sayyaf has also been blamed for the bombing of a ferry near Manila Bay in 2004 that killed 100 people.


20:51 Posted in PHILIPPINES | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook |

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