‘Singaporean terrorist’ helping Abus—Puno

MANILA, Philippines—An “international terrorist” from Singapore was acting on behalf of Islamic militants in the 76-day Red Cross hostage crisis, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno told local television Wednesday.

The “Singapore” militant served as an interpreter for the Abu Sayyaf group as it negotiated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Manila government, Puno said.

He said “the Singaporean,” whom he did not identify, could also have made contact with relatives of a Swiss and an Italian who were among three Red Cross workers abducted on Jolo Island on Jan. 15.

“Apparently a Singaporean has been moving along with the group and serving as their interpreter,” Puno said.

He said the Abu Sayyaf had also apparently contacted the hostages’ relatives in Europe and he suspected the Singaporean “is serving this purpose.”

Puno described the suspect as “one of those international terrorists that are under the protection of the Abu Sayyaf. He has been with them since the very beginning.”

‘Simple-minded’

Also Wednesday, Malacañang admitted that it had underestimated the Abu Sayyaf bandits holding the three Red Cross workers.

“We thought they were simple-minded,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said in an ambush interview. “But they thought of that precisely (because) they knew the international repercussion that would put pressure on the national government.”

Ermita was referring to the fact that the group of Albader Parad seized members of the ICRC, a humanitarian organization acknowledged as neutral in conflict areas, and that two of them were foreigners.

No less than Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for the safe release of the captives and for Philippine authorities “to favor every peaceful resolution to this dramatic episode.”

No assist from US

Despite the gravity of the situation, Ermita ruled out the possibility of seeking assistance from the United States.

“This is a matter that the national government can handle,” he said. “We don’t need any outside assistance from anybody for that matter.”

Ermita said the government still considered negotiation as the “primary effort” in seeking the safe release of the ICRC workers.

The former military general said negotiators had initially acceded to Parad’s demand of a partial pullout because the kidnappers had promised to free one hostage. But Parad did not keep his word and demanded more troop pull-out in five towns.

Monitor mode

“Nilalaro tayo (They are playing with us),” he said. “We do not want to be (held) hostage by these people who are irrational.”

Ermita said the government was still on “monitor mode, hoping that reason would prevail in the minds of our counterpart.”

“We hope they will be enlightened,” he said. “I might even invoke (that may) the good Lord, Allah, reach out to them so that they will know that what they are doing should be for the benefit of everybody.”

The Abu Sayyaf, set up by a Filipino Muslim militant who went to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, has been blamed for some of the Philippines’ worst terrorist attacks.

Western intelligence agencies say the group was initially funded by the al-Qaida group of Osama bin Laden and provides shelter and training facilities for Jemaah Islamiyah militants operating elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Agence France-Presse
and Christian Esguerra

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Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 12:44 am  Comments Off on ‘Singaporean terrorist’ helping Abus—Puno  
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