Vagni still alive — Verzosa

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — SICK Italian hostage Eugenio Vagni is still alive and is believed to be being kept by his Abu Sayyaf captors in the jungles of Patikul, Sulu, Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus A. Verzosa said yesterday.

“We have for the last few days no updates pertaining to his whereabouts but we still believe that he is somewhere in Patikul area. The last contact he made with some of his relatives shows he is still alive. We believe he is still alive,” Verzosa told newsmen in Camp Crame.

Vagni spent his fourth month under captivity of the Abu Sayyaf last May 15 with nary a sight of the sick International Committee of the Red Cross worker and authorities continuing to play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the bandits.

Although Vagni reportedly had made contact with his family very recently, authorities are yet to secure the safe release of the remaining ICRC captive despite a much-vaunted security operation to get the victim snatched by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu last January 15 involving more than a thousand military, police and civilian security forces.

“There is no sighting of Vagni yet although we’re watching for diversionary attacks by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu,” a security official, who requested anonymity, involved in the operation to get the Italian back said.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who was unhurt in a roadside bomb explosion that wounded five of his men last Tuesday however said that a team of Islamic preachers continue to talk to the Abu Sayyaf band led by Albader Parad hoping the extremists would finally set him free.

Last month, the Abu Sayyaf separately freed Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipina engineer Mary Jean Lacaba, who were being held with Vagni. Tan had declared a state of emergency in Sulu and ordered a crackdown against the Abu Sayyaf and loose weapons in Sulu hoping the pressure would prompt the Abu Sayyaf to surrender Vagni without any ransom

On Tuesday last week, police said they are checking reports that a notorious Abu Sayyaf leader and some of his men were wounded in a clash with Marine soldiers in Indanan, Sulu.

A report from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Police Regional Office said Abu Sayyaf Commander Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu was wounded during the encounter in Sitio Bud, Bgy. Buansa in Indanan town.

Members of the Marines Scout Snipers and the 62nd and 63rd Reconnaissance Battalion clashed with the Abu Sayyaf while they were on patrol, ARMM police director, Chief Supt. Bensali M. Jabarani, said.