Abu Sayyaf eyes prisoner swap

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — ABU Sayyaf bandits holding on three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hostage in the jungles of Sulu are reportedly eyeing a “prisoner swap” with the government.

A source said the extremists are referring to top-level Abu Sayyaf personality currently being held in different prisons in Metro Manila.

There are at least 135 suspected Abu Sayyaf leaders and members being held at the maximum-security Camp Bagong Diwa jail in Taguig City, the same government facility that was laid under siege by jailed Abu Sayyaf rebels in March 2005.

After killing several prison guards, the extremists seized the compound and barricaded the area using different obstacles until police commandos stormed the site and killed over a dozen of the suspects in a firefight that also left one officer dead.

Other suspected Abu Sayyaf personalities convicted for their crimes, one of them Hector Janjalani, the brother of slain Abu Sayyaf founder Khadaffy Janjalani have been transferred to the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa.

However, a security official laughed off the Abu Sayyaf demand. “It’s impossible. We have a strict no-ransom policy in this country, what more when it comes to a prisoner swap. That’s a big no-no,” said the official who demanded anonymity since he is not allowed to speak on the matter.

The other day, Philippine National Police chief, Director General Jesus A. Verzosa said fresh troops have been transported to Sulu and Basilan to go after Abu Sayyaf bandits holding on to a number of hostages including the three ICRC workers.
Verzosa said members of the Regional Mobile Group 9 from Western Mindanao and 100 additional Marine troops were sent to Basilan two weeks ago.

The PNP chief said they are doing all necessary actions to secure the safe liberty of the three ICRC workers kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu last Jan. 15 and Sri Lankan Umar Jaleel who was abducted last Friday in Basilan.

“The people are already very mad at the Abu Sayyaf. They are already up in arms against these terrorists,” he said although he said they are yet to receive any demand from the kidnappers of Jaleel.

The three ICRC workers: Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino engineer Jean Lacaba, are still being held captive in the jungles of Sulu, more than a month after being seized by gunmen while they were on their way to the airport after inspecting a water and sanitation project at the Sulu Provincial Jail.