Senate asked: Probe release of Sayyaf men by DOJ group

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ILIGAN CITY—More than 70 civil society organizations and individuals engaged in human rights and peace advocacy work in Mindanao have called on the Senate to investigate what they said was the suspicious release of suspected Abu Sayyaf members as ordered by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In February, the Anti-Terrorism Task Force of the DOJ ordered the release of 18 suspects in the Aug. 20, 2002, kidnapping and beheading of Jehovah’s Witness members in Patikul, Sulu.

A 12-page report of the task force said that of the 18, 13 were victims of mistaken identity while there was a lack of probable cause to indict five others.

Of those released on Feb. 15, three—Muhammad Sali Said, Robin Sahiyal and Julhamad Ahadi—appeared as prosecution witness in the bail hearing of Sulu human rights activist Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie at a Manila court, according to Maria Arnold Noel, a nun who is among the signatories to a petition asking the Senate to investigate the suspects’ release.

Tulawie is facing two criminal charges in connection with the May 13, 2009, bombing in Patikul, Sulu, supposedly aimed at a convoy of former governor and now Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

Noel said the release of Said, Sahiyal and Ahadi “was highly likely timed for their court appearance.” She added that it was learned that the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos was instrumental in the release of the suspects.

Said admitted in court that he was released from prison with the help of the lawyer of Tan, who offered to help him on condition that his group agreed to stand as witnesses against Tulawie.

“In open court, these men have admitted that they are bombers, kidnappers and proud active members of the Abu Sayyaf group,” the petition of Noel’s group said.

According to Noel, Said executed an affidavit and later testified in court that he is an active Abu Sayyaf member and was one of those who planned and executed the 2009 Patikul bombing of Tan’s convoy.

Noel said that during a court hearing in March, Said also admitted taking part in the kidnapping of broadcaster Ces Drilon and Mindanao State University professor Octavio Dinampo in 2008.

“He even stated proudly that for that crime, he has not been charged at all,” said Noel.

“Who repackaged these highly dangerous terrorists to fall under the legal assistance program and make them appear as innocent Muslims wrongly arrested due to mistaken identity?” Noel’s group said.

A spate of bomb attacks has hit Cagayan de Oro City and Cotabato City, but authorities are reluctant to quickly link these to terror groups. Ryan Rosario, Inquirer Mindanao

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