Sunday, November 16, 2008

Abu Sayyaf still receiving foreign support — Marines chief

ZAMBOANGA CITY — The Abu Sayyaf still receives support from radical international organizations, a ranking military official said.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, Marines commandant, told BusinessWorld that the information was revealed during the debriefing of a kidnapped victim who was released at the weekend.

The Abu Sayyaf uses laptops and mobile wireless Internet connection to communicate with extremist organizations abroad, he said.

The group has earlier been reported as having active ties with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network and the radical Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia.

Mr. Dolorfino said the Abu Sayyaf is now being run by young members who launch attacks and revive ties with radical organizations.

The military’s intelligence unit is tracking the ransom that the bandits collected from their recent victims.

"It is expected that they would buy guns and use the money to fund future attacks. What we are doing now is to trace that money," he said.

Following the release of the last kidnapped aid worker in Basilan, security authorities said it is just a matter of time before the Abu Sayyaf embarks on another kidnapping attempt.

"Based on the revelation of the kidnapped victims, we already know who they are, and their location. With that vital information, we are already tracking their moves," Mr. Dolorfino said.

The Marine chief was here on Saturday to debrief Merlie "Millet" Mendoza, a developmental worker, who was released on Friday after spending almost two months in captivity.

Ms. Mendoza was seized along with Esperancita "Espie" E. Hupida of Basilan-based Nagdilaab Foundation, Inc. during a community visit in Tipo-Tipo town.

Ms. Hupida was freed two weeks earlier than Ms. Mendoza, after its family and employer paid a "reasonable amount" of money to the kidnappers.

The kidnappers also freed earlier Zamboangueña nurse Preciosa Feliciano, who spent more than four months in the hands of her captors.

Mr. Dolorfino said the military in Basilan could not yet launch its operation since the kidnappers, who are believed to be new members of Abu Sayyaf are still holding third-year college student Joed Anthony Pilanga, who was kidnapped Oct. 17 in this city.

The kidnappers are asking for a P20-million ransom in exchange for his safe release, which the kidnap victim’s family said they could not afford.

"Our troops are already in position," said Mr. Dolorfino said, adding the bandits led by Puruji Indama and Nur Hasan Jamiri have more than 100 members.

New security measures

Basilan’s Brigade commander Rustico O. Guerrero said they have initiated new security measures to thwart the bandits’ kidnapping activities.

Security officials have earlier noted that the bandits will seize another victim before releasing their captives to prevent the military and the police to launch an operation against them.

Vice-Governor Alrasheed Sakalahul, who heads the crisis committee, said the series of kidnapping incidents is the handiwork of only one group.

Based on testimonies of freed victims, the kidnappers are hiding in a remote community. "But we were separated from each other," said Ms. Hupida.

This year alone, there have been 33 kidnapped persons in Western Mindanao, of whom at least 29 were freed through ransom payment, said Mirali Mendoza-Durr, the twin sister of Millet.

The data estimated total ransom paid to the kidnappers this year at more than P49 million.

However, the figures cited are understated since many cases of kidnapping were not reported to authorities and the media, said Ms. Durr. — Darwin T. Wee

Abu Sayyaf still receiving foreign support — Marines chief
BusinessWorld Online