Kidnapped Italian Red Cross worker alive

ZAMBOANGA–An Italian Red Cross worker held by Muslim extremists in the Philippines is still alive, a senior police official said Sunday, amid growing concern about the hostage’s health.

Philippine security forces are on heightened alert after the kidnappers tried to flee during a successful attempt to free another hostage on Saturday, provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Jularisim Kasim said.

Eugenio Vagni, a 62-year-old Italian national, “is still alive,” based on reports of intelligence sources in the area on the southern island of Jolo, he said.

Security forces have rescued Vagni’s colleague, Swiss national Andreas Notter, 38, from Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group that kidnapped the Red Cross workers on Jolo three months ago.

Vagni is suffering from a hernia and Notter has said he was ill and in pain.

The militants, who released a third hostage, a Filipina, on April 2, are in a cordoned-off jungle area near the town of Indanan.

“It is rather hard to maintain the cordon and remain on guard because the rain is very hard,” Kasim said.

“We are more alert in our vigilance due to the attempts of the Abu Sayyaf to flee after Notter slipped away.”

He added that the cordon had been tightened and that civilian volunteers were helping the authorities.

Notter was freed on the outskirts of Indanan. Officials earlier said the Swiss national was left behind as the Abu Sayyaf were fleeing military and police pursuers.

A team of Muslim holy men or “ulamas” have been sent to negotiate for the hostage but there is no word on whether they have met with the kidnappers since Notter’s recovery.

Vagni, Notter and Filipina Mary Jane Lacaba were abducted while on a humanitarian mission to Jolo on January 15.

Officials have reiterated that no ransom was paid for either Lacaba or Notter.

The Abu Sayyaf had previously threatened to behead one of the foreign hostages unless government forces pulled back from around their positions on Jolo.

Abu Sayyaf militants have kidnapped other Westerners over the past decade, many of whom, according to the Philippine military, were released after the payment of large ransoms.

But they murdered an American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, in 2001 and the following year a second American, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, was killed in a military attack that led to the rescue of his wife.

The group is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and a small number of American forces have been rotating on Jolo island since 2003 to provide intelligence information to their Filipino counterparts.

Agence France-Presse

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 11:36 am  Comments Off on Kidnapped Italian Red Cross worker alive  
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