Abu Sayyaf Still Alive and Active, Says Missionary in Philippines

After Decapitation of 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses

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MANILA, Philippines, Aug. 23, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The decapitation of two hostages by Abu Sayyaf rebels shows that the radical Islamic movement «is still alive and very active in the Island of Jolo,» despite U.S. troop presence.

So said Claretian Father Angelo Calvo, when he learned of the discovery Thursday of the heads of two hostages abducted two days earlier by the rebels in the southern Philippines town of Patikul.

«In fact, I heard that the Abu Sayyaf have been very active over the past weeks in the island, recruiting new members,» the Spanish missionary told the Misna news agency. The priest lives in Zamboanga, north of Jolo.

«It’s not surprising, considering that the hundreds of U.S. soldiers deployed over the past months to the southern Philippines for joint training operations with local soldiers have concentrated their activities in Basilan, more to the north of Jolo,» he added.

«It is normal that the rebels move from one island to another,» the priest said. «It is important to remember that just the archipelago of Jolo has over 400 islands and islets — a fact that renders it very difficult for security forces to maintain control over the territory.»

In regard to the hostages, Father Calvo said that the group -– initially eight, but then two Muslims were released -– was abducted while selling cosmetics to the local residents.

The whole group, four women and two men, were Jehovah’s Witnesses. «Patikul is known to be a risky zone, given that it has always been a stronghold of the Islamic rebels,» the priest said. «So I do not understand why those youths were there selling cosmetics.»

A military spokesman today said the sale of cosmetics was «merely an expedient to attract potential followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.»

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