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5 Abu suspects caught napping

/ 05:35 AM June 23, 2011

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Government troops captured five suspected Abu Sayyaf gang members believed to be holding three hostages in a raid on one of their jungle hideouts in Basilan, the Army said on Wednesday.

Troops raided an encampment in Upper Cabengbeng barangay in Sumisip town at dawn on Wednesday and caught the bandits in their sleep, said Col. Alexander Macario, commander of the special military task force. About 10 of them managed to escape, however.

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The raid followed a tip from a suspect arrested last week who said three Filipino hostages were being held by the bandits.

However, none of the three hostages were found during the operation.

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The three hostages being held for ransom include a child and two businessmen separately kidnapped in recent months. A fourth captive, engineer Virgilio Fernandez, managed to escape from his captors last week, and authorities have handed him over to his family.

The five captured Abu Sayyaf suspects were part of a unit that specialized in kidnappings to raise funds for the group and security forces found specialized weapons, including a sniper’s rifle during the raid, Macario said.

They are facing criminal charges, said Maj. Harold Cabunoc, the Army deputy spokesperson. Their identities were not immediately disclosed.

However, local officials later claimed that three of the five captured men were just being used as “porters” by the Abu Sayyaf and have since been turned over to the barangay officials, Cabunoc said.

“The AFP is not after the Moro people, we are only after the actual members of the ASG and as proof of our sincerity, we released the three to the village officials in good faith and this is strong expression of our position and respect toward human rights,” Cabunoc said.

Wednesday’s raid was the second conducted in Basilan since last week, he said.

On Saturday, a similar raid in Ungkaya Pukan town failed to catch three of Basilan’s notorious Abu Sayyaf leaders, including Nur Hassan Jamiri and Khair Mundos. But one gang member was captured and a firearms cache seized. AFP and AP with Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: abu sayyaf, criminal charges, Filipino hostages, Kidnapping, Maj. Harold Cabunoc, military raid
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