Abu Sayyaf threatens to kill 2 hostages

MANILA, Philippines — A day after freeing Filipino engineer Mary Jean Lacaba, an Abu Sayyaf bandit commander still holding two foreign hostages threatened on Friday night to execute his remaining captives.

Commander Albader Parad aired the threat in a telephone interview and in a separate talk with Sen. Richard Gordon.

The threat came hours after Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno announced that more than 20 people — including policemen and village officials — had been brought in for questioning in a crackdown on those suspected of giving aid and comfort to the kidnappers.

Parad confirmed what Puno and other government negotiators said: that Lacaba was freed without any ransom payment. But he would not give any hint on what his group wanted in exchange for the freedom of Italian Eugenio Vagni and Swiss Andreas Notter, who remained in Abu Sayyaf hands.

Parad said the Abu Sayyaf demand for the release of Vagni and Notter — both workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross like Lacaba — would be known once the government sends a negotiator to discuss what his group wants.

Asked how Vagni and Notter were coping now that Lacaba had been freed, Parad said, speaking in Filipino: “Of course, they’re not okay. The people are already angry, at us, at the situation, at the government. Of course, they don’t like it here. They also want to go home, but we told them they would not be going home the way Mary Jean did.”

Parad said: “But if they will not try to understand us — didn’t they say that life is precious? So, let them show us that the lives of these two are precious. If not, we cannot do anything. The lives of these two are even less important to us.”

Parad added, also in Filipino: “They [the government] will just see what we will do to them, and Mary Jean knows that.”

Sought for reaction, Sen. Richard Gordon, who is chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, said he had also talked with Parad and “he told me, he will carry out his threat on one of the hostages.”

“Ilalagay na lang daw sa sako, dadating sa bayan” [The body would be put in a sack and left in the town], Gordon quoted Parad as telling him — the same threat the Abu Sayyaf issued last Tuesday when they said they would behead one hostage if the military did not pull back its troops from some Abu Sayyaf areas on Jolo Island.

Breaking his silence since the evening of March 31, mainly due to the lack of cell phone signals in the Indanan and Parang areas, Parad said Lacaba’s release was part of a gentleman’s agreement with Gordon.

“We just wanted to show that we fulfill what we promise,” Parad said in an interview in Filipino at around 8:30 p.m., adding: “They know no ransom was paid.”

Parad hinted during the interview that the Abu Sayyaf demand in exchange for Vagni and Notter’s release would not involve money but something else.

‘They want to go home’

Parad said he was also in touch with Gordon and that he stressed to the senator that things would not be easy for Vagni and Notter.

“The senator took pains to talk to me and I will not embarrass him,” he said. “Whatever it is, we will push through with our threat. They’ll see. It depends on the government.”

Gordon said Parad, in their talk, sounded more aggressive than before. “It was as if he stands on moral ground because of the release of Mary Jean,” he said.

Gordon said there was still no detailed demand from the Abu Sayyaf, only a repetition of their earlier call for a total halt in military operations, which was the message also relayed to him by Lacaba.

Removing Abu Sayyaf support

At the Camp Crame national police headquarters, Puno said 23 individuals, including policemen and “barangay” [village] captains, were “invited” for questioning on Thursday while a “few more” suspected of coddling the kidnappers were brought in Friday.

Puno spoke at a news briefing attended by four of the country’s highest security officials, including Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano and Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa.

Those found to have actually supported the Abu Sayyaf will be hunted down and charged, Puno said.

“The effort consists basically of removing the base of support of the kidnappers,” he said. “That means all individuals, all public officials, anyone who is giving aid and comfort to kidnappers is considered now as liable for charges of being accessory to kidnapping.”

Those that have been invited for questioning are suspected of either allowing the kidnappers to stay in their homes or giving them supplies.

Everyone called to account

Some barangay captains, including those in areas where the kidnappers have moved around, are being questioned for turning a blind eye on what the Abu Sayyaf has done, Puno said.

Verzosa has ordered “a number” of policemen arrested or restricted to their quarters on suspicion of having coddled the bandits.

“Everybody’s being called to account for their roles in allowing this thing to go as long as it has,” Puno said.

Admitting much more needs to be done, the four senior officials vowed to “do everything reasonable” to recover Notter and Vagni.

“The major asset of kidnappers is to toy with our minds, our anxiety and our fears, [so] for the safety of the hostages we have to try to look at these things more objectively,” Puno said.

State of emergency

The security officials agreed the state of emergency in Sulu province, where the hostages are being held, was still the most effective measure in swaying the kidnappers to free the two foreign hostages.

“There has been a release and there was no ransom paid,” Puno said. “I believe the release was a result of a change in environment for the kidnappers and it encourages everyone to proceed with the same course of action.”

“The policy remains the same and … is in accordance with the law,” Teodoro said.

Using a map to illustrate the movements of the kidnappers, Puno said they seemed to have been “running around” south of Mt. Tukay for the past two or three days.

Now, they were moving in the vicinity of Mt. Tumatangis and Mt. Taran, he said.

Calibrated pressure

Yano said his troops had gradually reoccupied their old positions, again putting a “calibrated pressure” on the kidnappers.

“Calibrated means not too near as to precipitate premature engagement that would endanger the hostages and not too far as for us not to be able to respond to any violence or to the premature beheading conducted by the kidnappers,” Yano said.

Puno said security forces had fortified the line between the Sulo capital Jolo and the town of Maimbung, preventing the kidnappers from linking up with Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron’s larger group in the northeast.

He also said that while the crisis committee led by Gov. Abdusakur Tan of Sulu was trying to develop new channels of negotiations, it would also employ measures that proved effective in obtaining Lacaba’s freedom.

Puno surmised the kidnappers chose to free Lacaba rather than one of the two foreign hostages because they still hoped to win ransom for them.

“I think our foreign humanitarians are probably more likely targets for extortion by them … but we are happy to have Mary Jean with us,” he said.

Earlier, Gordon appealed for the release of the two foreigners “immediately and unconditionally.”

“I am appealing to them not to hurt our two other colleagues. I also call on [the military] to exercise restraint and caution in their operations,” Gordon said.

He especially cited Vice Governor Lady Ann Sahidulla of Sulu for her “courage and bravery” in helping secure Lacaba’s freedom.

Asked what dates were he looking at for Notter and Vagni’s freedom, Gordon said: “Hopefully before the Lenten Season.”

Gordon insisted no ransom was paid for Lacaba’s release.

Sahidulla said Parad had indicated he would not ask for ransom for the two foreigners.

Arlene de la Cruz and Jocelyn Uy,
Philippine Daily Inquirer
With reports from Kristine L. Alave in Manila,
and Julie Alipala in Mindanao

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Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 1:54 am  Comments Off on Abu Sayyaf threatens to kill 2 hostages  
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