Bossi in Abu Sayyaf hands

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — MALACAÑANG yesterday told the Italian government not to be overly optimistic about the rescue of kidnapped Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi although photographs appear to show that the priest is still alive and in the custody of Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Basilan.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said he told visiting Italian official Margherita Boniver after Bossi’s captors released photographs of the priest to erase doubts that he is still alive.

“We told her not to be too optimistic as we are dealing with the Abu Sayyaf. What we are saying is it won’t be easy or quick, especially given the kind of people that we are dealing with,” the security adviser said in a phone interview.

Gonzales said that if the Abu Sayyaf was indeed behind Bossi’s kidnapping, this might have been intended to drive home the message that the dreaded terrorist group is far from crippled despite the series of reverses they suffered at the hands of government troops.

Top leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, notably Khadaffy Janjalani, were killed during armed encounters with the military last year.

The Al Qaida-linked militants were implicated for the first time in the abduction of the Italian priest on Friday, and Gonzales said the authorities are expecting more pictures of Bossi to emerge, proving that he remains alive nearly a month after being kidnapped on June 10.

Military officials had previously identified renegade members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front as being behind the kidnapping. The MILF, which is in the final stages of peace talks with Manila, has denied being involved and its members initially helped government troops in the hunt.

Gonzales said he remains confident Bossi was still alive after pictures of the priest surfaced on Saturday. The undated images were first sent via mobile phone to Bossi’s friend, Angel Calvo.

“There are other pictures coming,” Gonzales said, without elaborating. “Data we are getting also points that he’s alive.”

Bossi, 57, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was seized by heavily armed men near his parish church in Zamboanga Sibugay province. He is the latest in a string of foreign missionaries kidnapped in the troubled south in recent years.