Military verifying report of death of head of ICRC workers’ kidnappers

THE military said Abu Sayyaf Commander Albader Parad and two of his men may have either been killed or wounded in an hour of intermittent fighting with Marine elements in Indanan, Sulu, on Monday.

Citing raw reports from the field, Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan, military spokesman for the hostage crisis in Sulu, said Parad and his two men were hit with gunfire by members of Task Force Comet in the encounter that broke out at about 11 a.m.

This, as government forces launched an offensive on Monday to rescue the three teachers kidnapped last week by gunmen in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Col. Alexander Dicang, commander of the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade, said security forces have identified the suspects in the abduction of teachers in Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay.

The teachers—Jocelyn Enriquez, Jocelyn Inion and Noime Mandi—who are assigned at the Bangkaw-Bangkaw Elementary School in Naga, were seized Friday by four gunmen.

Dicang refused to identify the target of the offensive but said there are several lawless groups in the area, including the remnants of the gang of Akiddin Abdusalam, who was killed earlier, that are operating in the coastal areas of Zamboanga Sibugay.

“There are a lot of lawless elements that thrive on extortion, piracy and other atrocities in the area,” Dicang said in an interview.

The teachers were traveling aboard a motorized banca from Bangkaw-Bangkaw island to the town proper of Naga when four gunmen aboard another motorized banca intercepted and seized them.

Another official disclosed that personnel from the Naval Special Warfare Group (SWAG) arrived in Zamboanga Sibugay to assist the troops in locating the victims.

As of Monday no one has claimed responsibility for the teachers’ kidnapping. No ransom demand has been made.

On Monday Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. George Hofer and Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar, as well as Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and other local officials, met with Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno in this city.

Puno was accompanied by ranking police and military officials during the meeting.

Puno hinted that there will be a large- scale offensive against the groups that are behind the kidnapping of the teachers in Western Mindanao.

On January 23 three teachers were kidnapped in Zamboanga City and taken to Basilan province.

“We will recover the hostages in due time. These kidnappers cannot match the forces that are going to be placed against them and against a unified citizenry within the local government, they will not be able to continue this kind of criminal activities,” Puno said.

In Sulu Parad’s group is holding Italian Eugenio Vagni, Swiss Andreas Notter and Filipino Marie Jean Lacaba, who are staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in Indanan town.

The three were snatched by the bandits while they were on their way to the capital town of Jolo shortly after inspecting the project of the ICRC at the Sulu Provincial Jail in Patikul.

A combined team of Marines, policemen and civilian volunteers is maintaining a security cordon within four kilometers around the area where the bandits are holding their victims in order to prevent the group’s possible escape.

Citing the raw reports, Pangilinan said the encounter took place after a team of Marines spotted Parad and about 10 of his men attempting to leave the sealed area, which is 3 km northwest of Mount Tumatangis in barangay Timahu, Indanan.

“More or less 10 Abu Sayyaf bandits, including Parad, were caught by a small group of soldiers monitoring the area, trying to break out from constricted area in that village,” Pangilinan said.

“Most probably, the reason they are trying to get out of the constricted area was to escape the military,” he added.

Pangilinan stressed, however, that the reports about the wounding or possible death of Parad and his two men are still subject to validation.

He said the three hostages are safe, as they were not with the fleeing group of Parad.

As the reports are unverified, a military officer with the Task Force Comet said Parad may have been wounded by a Marine sniper as he and about 40 of his men are attempting to leave the cordoned area.

He also said the number of wounded or killed from the side of the Abu Sayyaf could have been four or even higher as the sniper shot terrorists who attempted to rescue or recover the body of their colleagues.

“For the sniper, it’s a one shot, one kill,” the officer said.

He also said the three hostages were with the group of Parad when they attempted to leave the secured area.

Like Pangilinan, the officer said the wounding or possible death of Parad is still to be validated.

The government needs a “forceful” antikidnapping strategy in the Southern Philippines in the light of increased abductions that have reached “alarming proportions” there, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said.

Gonzales said he is finalizing a proposed new strategy to effectively deal with kidnap groups instead of resolving kidnap-for-ransom activities—which had reportedly become a “cottage industry” in Mindanao—through the Local Crisis Committees.

“We really need to sign a new strategy for this because it reached an alarming proportion,” said Gonzales, adding that the bishops of Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga Sibugay and the archbishop of Zamboanga “are all expressing a similar alarm on the ongoing and increased kidnapping in their areas.”

He is finalizing a more “forceful” strategy in dealing with kidnap groups instead of the current “soft approach” strategy, which he believed is better suited for peace negotiations but not for crippling kidnapping operations.

Rene Acosta and Bong Garcia, with M. Gonzalez, The Business Mirror

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Published in: on March 17, 2009 at 6:04 am  Comments Off on Military verifying report of death of head of ICRC workers’ kidnappers  
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