Filipino militants set time for hostage beheading

MANILA, Philippines – Al-Qaida-linked extremists set the time for the beheading of a Red Cross hostage after last-minute negotiations for the withdrawal of troops from their jungle stronghold failed, an official said Monday.

Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad threatened to behead one of the three Red Cross hostages — who include a Swiss, an Italian and a Filipino — at 2 p.m. Tuesday (0600 GMT) unless police and militiamen withdraw from 15 villages on Jolo Island within 24 hours, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said.

“Their demands as of last night are physically impossible to comply with by anybody,” Puno said at a news conference, adding they will continue to find ways to save the hostages “up to the last minute.”

But Puno hinted that the government was ready to resort to force if any of the hostages, who have been held for 2 1/2 months by about 120 Abu Sayyaf gunmen, are harmed. They have been held in a hilly jungle in Jolo’s Indanan town, and until the recent pullout, surrounded by more than 1,000 marines, police and militiamen for weeks.

“If we’re talking of brute force, of course we can do something,” Puno said, adding “these are not normal thinking people … we don’t want the hostages harmed.”

Caving in to the militants, the marines withdrew to their camp last week and police and militiamen moved back from the Abu Sayyaf stronghold by six to nine miles (10-15 kilometers), hoping to prompt the Abu Sayyaf to comply with a pledge to release one hostage.

But the militants insisted that troops must withdraw from virtually the entire island into just two villages near the provincial capital — a demand the government says would lead to anarchy.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan said Monday he was praying the militants do not harm the hostages.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s spokesman, Cerge Remonde, also said he hoped “these bandits have a sense of humanity” and will release the hostages.

Puno said the government agreed to pull back troops from Indanan township, near the Abu Sayyaf positions, to demonstrate it has bent over backward to ensure the safety of the hostages — Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni.

They were seized Jan. 15 after visiting a water project for a jail on Jolo, a predominantly Muslim region about 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf has long been dreaded for beheading hostages, including an American tourist in 2001 as well as seven Filipino laborers in 2007 after the group failed to get a ransom on time.

The U.S. government has placed the Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen, on its list of terrorist organizations because of beheadings and kidnappings, deadly bomb attacks and the militants’ links to al-Qaida.

Associated Press

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Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 7:21 pm  Comments Off on Filipino militants set time for hostage beheading  
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