Police and local government officials have been detained in the southern Philippines for their alleged involvement in the kidnapping of three Red Cross workers, local media reported yesterday.
The Philippine Star newspaper said up to 23 people had been rounded up on suspicion of helping Islamic militants of the Abu Sayyaf in the Jan. 15 kidnapping of three International Committee of the Red Cross workers.
Filipina Red Cross worker Mary Jean Lacaba, 37, was released on Thursday and negotiations are continuing for the release of Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62, and Swiss Andreas Notter, 38.
The paper quoted Philippine Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno saying he was optimistic that the two remaining hostages would be released.
Puno said a media blackout had been imposed on the negotiations.
The paper said local supporters of the Abu Sayyaf on the island of Jolo allowed the kidnappers to use their homes and gave then supplies.
“Whether they were willing to help them is what we are trying to find out,” Puno said, according to the paper.
He did not name those picked up but told the paper that local officials and police were among those being questioned.
The government said late on Friday that it was limiting media access to those involved in the negotiations and planning operations for the release of the two remaining Red Cross workers.
Lacaba was still undergoing medical tests yesterday in Manila, where she was reunited with her husband and child.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for some of the worst terror attacks in Philippine history and has been linked by intelligence agencies to the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
Abu Sayyaf militants have kidnapped several other westerners over the past decade, many of whom, according to the Philippine military, were ransomed off for millions of dollars.
They also murdered a US hostage, Guillermo Sobero, in 2001, while a second American, Christian missionary Martin Burnham, was killed in a military attack the following year that led to the rescue of his wife Gracia.