A kidnapped Italian Red Cross worker is still alive following two deadly clashes between his al-Qaeda-linked captors and the government forces engaged in an operation to rescue him in the southern Philippines, the military said yesterday.
The Abu Sayyaf militants are constantly moving 63-year-old Eugenio Vagni in the jungles of Jolo Island to evade military and police rescue efforts, marine spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo said.
Vagni and two fellow International Committee of the Red Cross aid workers were kidnapped in Jolo on Jan. 15.
The militants freed his Swiss and Filipino companions in April.
About 100 Abu Sayyaf militants attacked government forces with assault rifles and grenades in Jolo’s Indanan township on Saturday, killing seven government security personnel and wounding 17 more, Arevalo said.
The ambush left at least six Abu Sayyaf militants dead, he said.
There was no sign that Vagni was with the militants involved in the clash, he said.
On Thursday, marines attacked an Abu Sayyaf jungle encampment near Timahu village in Indanan, sparking fierce clashes that killed two marines and at least eight militants.
Villagers told the military that they saw Vagni taking a bath under guard later on Thursday in a coastal area in Jolo’s Parang, about 5km from the Indanan clashes, Arevalo said.
“Based on all the information that we’re getting, Vagni’s alive,” Arevalo said.
Regional police chief Bensali Jabarani also said Vagni, who suffers from hypertension and a hernia, was alive and in Abu Sayyaf custody in Jolo, an impoverished region 950km south of Manila.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, is on the US list of terrorist organizations because of its al-Qaeda links and many terrorist attacks, including attacks that have victimized Americans.
The group and its allies have turned to kidnappings to make money in recent years, raising concerns that ransom payments could revive the group, which has been weakened by years of US-backed offensives.
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