A Sri Lankan peace activist became the latest victim of a wave of kidnappings in the southern Philippines blamed on al-Qaeda-linked militants, officials said yesterday.
Omar Jalil, 36, from the nonpartisan group Nonviolent Peaceforce, which has been monitoring a Muslim separatist uprising in the Philippines, was taken by nine gunmen from his residence in coastal Lamitan on Basilan island early yesterday, Basilan police chief Salik Macapantar said.
The Filipino caretaker of the house managed to escape unharmed even as the gunmen opened fire, he said.
The caretaker was now guiding the navy and marines in combing the jungle hinterlands of Lamitan to try to locate the hostage, provincial vice governor Al-Rasheed Sakalahul said.
Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, notorious for ransom kidnappings and terror attacks, are holding three teachers and a lending company employee on Basilan as well as three Red Cross workers, including one Swiss and one Italian, on nearby Jolo island.
All were kidnapped this year, apparently as part of efforts by Abu Sayyaf to raise badly needed funds after several of its leaders with connections to Middle Eastern financiers were killed in US-backed offensives in recent years.
Abu Sayyaf, which has more than 300 fighters, is on a US blacklist of terrorist organizations because of links to al-Qaeda and its involvement in kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
At least two militants holding the three Red Cross hostages were killed and nine marines wounded in a clash on Monday when the captors attempted to break through a military cordon that has boxed them in, Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan said. The hostages were believed to be unhurt, he said.
Officials have been hesitant to resort to a military rescue and have asked about 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen to surrender their captives unconditionally. Speculation has mounted about a ransom demand ranging from US$5 million to US$10 million.