Threat to behead ICRC worker aired on radio

MANILA, Philippines—A man who claimed to be the leader of a gang of kidnappers Wednesday threatened to behead one of the three abducted workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) if government troops encircling them pressed closer.

“If the military operation gets closer to us and fighting ensues, I will cut off the head of one of them,” said a caller to dzEC radio in Manila who identified himself as Albader Parad of the Abu Sayyaf. “What I say will happen.”

Radio talk show host Arlyn de la Cruz told the caller that doubts had been expressed about his identity. On Tuesday, he also called the station to dispute news reports that he had been killed in fighting on Monday in Indanan town on Jolo Island.

“Is there a dead man talking?” said the caller who turned off his cellular phone when De la Cruz requested that she talk to at least one of the three hostages.

The ICRC workers were reported to have survived the gun battles on Monday, but Sen. Richard Gordon Wednesday told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) that they were “very, very tired and very sleepy.”

“They have been running all over the place,” said Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, quoting staff on the field.

Andreas Notter of Switzerland, Eugenio Vagni of Italy and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines were taken at gunpoint on Jan. 15 while on their way to the Jolo airport. They had just visited the provincial jail to inspect a water and sanitation project for the inmates.

Inconsistencies

Exactly where the man who made phone calls on Monday to several radio and TV networks and to Gordon had been shot had raised doubts about his identity.

“There are inconsistencies in his account as to where he was really wounded,” said Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr., spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, adding that the caller could just be any one of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers.

“He told Senator Gordon that he was hit in the shoulder, while in an interview with a TV reporter, he said he was shot in the foot,” Torres told reporters.

In the interview Monday with De la Cruz, the caller said he was slightly wounded in the arm.

“We have to factor in all these interviews … it’s difficult to validate who is really talking based on the voice,” Torres said, adding that the military was not yet discounting initial intelligence information that Parad was killed in Monday’s encounter.

2 kidnappers killed

But Torres confirmed Wednesday that an Abu Sayyaf sub-commander, Jul Asbi Jalmaani, and his aide, Mudar Hadjail, were killed in the sporadic clashes between the group and soldiers that have cordoned off an area in Indanan where the ICRC workers were held.

Torres said troops recovered their bodies on Tuesday night.

Three soldiers were killed and several dozen others were wounded in fighting Monday and Tuesday on Jolo, officials earlier said.

“We would also like to make it clear that this is not the transition of a military rescue operation,” Torres said.

“We are still open to peaceful avenues for the safe release of the victims, which is our first priority,” he added.

Torres said that neutralization of the enemies was only secondary to the operation.

The ICRC has strongly urged the military to refrain from taking actions that would endanger the lives of the hostages.

Military probe urged

In the meeting with Focap, Gordon said he had asked the military to look into Monday’s gun battles for “possible sabotage” of rescue operations.

“I am asking the military to investigate the people on the ground,” he said. “Why did this incident happen? We can’t play God in this situation.”

Gordon said he was also surprised by news of the clashes because he had been told that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari was supposed to go to Indanan this week to help in securing the release of the hostages.

Misuari mission

He said he met with Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and the police but “couldn’t get the military to sit down with us for some strange reason” over the weekend. It was in that meeting when they had approved Misuari’s mission in Sulu province.

Misuari’s entry into the picture had been sought by people in Jolo, according to Gordon, who explained the role of the MNLF leader there was “to negotiate for the release of the workers.”

Gordon made it clear there was no ransom being asked by the hostage takers.

Asked what the kidnappers wanted, he said it “could be anything,” reminding that some of the leaders there had asked, for example, to stop fishing in the area.

Jocelyn Uy, Christine Avendaño and  Julie Alipala/Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 3:37 am  Comments Off on Threat to behead ICRC worker aired on radio  
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