Philippine military closes in on hostage-takers

A spate of kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf raises concerns that the Islamist militant group's strength is growing.

Philippine government official/AP/FILE
Kidnapped: Abu Sayyaf militants, shown here in an undated photo, hold ten hostages in the Philippines, including three Red Cross workers.
  • A summary of global reports on an issue in terrorism and security.

The Philippines military said over the weekend that it has cornered a militant group that has held three Red Cross workers hostage in the jungle for more than a month.

Just a few years ago, the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf was thought to be a spent force, after they were targeted in a successful US-backed military campaign. But a spate of kidnappings in recent months has fueled concerns that the militants have regrouped under new leadership.

In the latest incident, a Sri Lankan peace activist was abducted on Feb. 13, one of 10 hostages now in Abu Sayyaf's hands.

The three aid workers were kidnapped Jan. 15 on the island of Jolo, part of an island chain in the Philippines' deep south that's long been a hotbed for Islamic militancy. (Click here to see a map of the region.)

Agence France-Presse reports that the military has trapped Abu Sayyaf kidnappers and their Red Cross captives in a 1.5-square-mile area of jungle, and is weighing its next move.

Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba were abducted by gunmen while returning from inspecting a water and sanitation project at a prison in Jolo.

The Mindanao Examiner reported that Abu Sayyaf wants to swap its three Red Cross hostages for some of its 135 members now jailed in metro Manila.

In a separate operation, the military also announced it had isolated an area on the restive island of Basilan where Abu Sayyaf kidnappedwas holding three public school teachers who were kidnapped on Feb. 7, according to the Business Mirror.

An Associated Press report cited a confidential government report as saying that Abu Sayyaf had raised $1.5 million in ransom last year, and had grown slightly in numbers, to 400.

The US military began to take a keen interest in Abu Sayyaf after it kidnapped 20 hostages – including three Americans – from a resort area in 2001, according to a recent Weekly Standard article. Later the US sent a few hundred troops to the Philippines to provide counterterrorism training, equipment such as night goggles, and intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles.

That assistance helped the Philippines military hunt down and kill Abu Sayyaf's leadership and drive remaining fighters to remote islands.

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor in December, a US official blamed the renewed violence on insufficient security following that campaign.

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