20 ABU SAYYAF CHARGED FOR KIDNAP, MURDERS
Basilan, March 12, 2003 -- At least 20 captured members of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group were been indicted Tuesday on kidnapping and murder charges in the southern Philippine island of Basilan.
A star witness Jose Guillo, a former Abu Sayyaf hostage, pointed one by one to his ex-captors inside the tightly guarded courthouse in Basilan island, as he started to tell his tale -- an ordeal, he said, that have changed his whole life. Guillo was also a witness to the ordeal of slain US hostages Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burham, the military said.
"I thought I would never see the world again. My ordeal was so harrowing and no compensation can pay for what I have gone through in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf," he said, holding his tears.
Guillo also identified the leaders of the gang that kidnapped them as Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Solaiman, Isnilon and his brother Sahinon Hapilon, and Abu Sabaya, who was killed in a sea clash with troops last year off Mindanao.
Government soldiers, backed by armoured vehicles, have set up a ring of security around the island's only courthouse to prevent guerrillas from sprining their comrades."We wanted to be sure that nothing wrong would happen during the indictment. We have deployed security forces around the courthouse," said Basilan Army chief Col. Bonifacio Ramos.
One spectator Leticia Lualhati said: "They look so innocent and their faces so angelic, but they are like quicksand in a jungle...a wolf in sheep's clothing and are so dangerous," she said.
Guillo was one of dozens taken hostage by guerrillas in June 02, 2001 in a raid at the Jose Torres Memorial Hospital in Lamitan town in Basilan -- he escaped after four months in captivity during a firefight between security forces and Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the jungle.
It was also Guillo who told the military that he saw two Yemeni nationals, believed to be al Qaeda members, inside an Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan shortly before the World Trade Center attack in September 11, 2001. The foreigners have met with Janjalani in Basilan, he said.
Guillo also told the court on Tuesday that Amir Minkong, a leader of the separatist rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had provided them provision during their captivity. "Amir Mingkong brought us foods during our captivity," he said.
The rebels, handcuffed in pairs, have been informed of the criminal charges against them by a government interpreter and they have pleaded not guilty. The whole session was held in English, and some of the guerrillas, many did not have formal education, obviously did not understand the proceedings.
Guillo has been taken into military custody after the Abu Sayyaf has threatened to avenge the capture of guerrillas, many have been arrested over the past months in separate operation in Basilan and in Zamboanga City.
Last week, troops killed a still undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Jolo island and three soldiers were also wounded in the fighting. Jolo island military chief Col. Alexander Aleo said soldiers stormed a suspected Abu Sayyaf hideout in the hinterland village of Tambaking in Maimbung town and clashed with guerrillas.
Aleo said troops have recovered two backpacks containing clothes and camouflage uniforms left behind by the rebels under a leader whose nom de guere is Dr. Abu Pula, one of those who raided the Sipadan island resort off Sabah, Malaysian in 2000 and kidnapped 21 mostly European and Asian nationals.
It was unknown if Pula was among those killed and troops continued Sunday searching for bodies and Abu Sayyaf weapons in the jungle, he said.
The Abu Sayyaf rebels are still holding three Indonesians sailors and four Filipino preachers kidnapped last year in Jolo island.The military said the foreigners were reported to have died in captivity -- one from diabetes and the other executed by rebels during a military rescue operation last month -- but this could not be independently confirmed.
Authorities have blamed the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf -- both linked by Western intelligence to Osama bin Laden -- to the spate of killings in the southern Philippines.
The Abu Sayyaf has owned up the attacks at Awang airport in Maguindanao province, that left one person dead and several others wounded, and the bombing of an international airport in Davao City on March 4. Rebel leder Hamsiraji Sali warned they would mount fresh attacks against civilian and military and US targets in Mindanao island.
Sali is one of five known leaders of the Abu Sayyaf wanted by the United States for the kidnapping and killing of US nationals Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham in Mindanao last year. The State Department has offered up to five million dollars for Sali's capture or any of the four -- Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Soliaman, Isnilon Hapilon and Abu Sabaya, who reported killed in June during a sea clash off Mindanao.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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