Suspected Islamist militant who guarded US hostages nabbed

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National Bureau of Investigations agents escort suspected Islamist militants, Hood Abdullah (L in orange shirt) and Jimmy Bla (R, in orange shirt) to a press conference at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila on March 12, 2018. — AFP

Philippine police have arrested a suspected Islamist militant who allegedly helped guard a group of tourists kidnapped in 2001 including an American missionary who was later killed, the justice department said Monday, March 12.

Hood Abdullah is accused of guarding hostages including US citizen Martin Burnham, who was killed and his wife wounded in the crossfire during a botched military rescue attempt in June 2002.

Abdullah was a member of Abu Sayyaf, an Al-Qaeda-linked group blamed for the archipelago’s deadliest bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings in recent decades, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said.

“Burnham, an American hostage, was always handcuffed to Abdullah… especially on the move,” Aguirre told reporters.

Burnham died 13 months after Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped a group of 20 tourists at an upscale western Philippine resort, including the Burnhams and another American, who was later beheaded.

The gunmen took their victims to their southern island stronghold of Basilan, authorities said.

While Abdullah did not take part in the resort raid, he guarded the Burnhams when several groups of hostages including the missionary couple were put together in one detention area, Aguirre said.

The other hostages were plantation workers and members of the Jehovah’s Witness religious sect — two of whom were rescued and helped to identify Abdullah, the justice secretary added.

Abdullah was arrested on February 27 in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where Aguirre said he was believed to be scouting for fresh victims while working as a motel security guard.

On February 28, authorities arrested a second Abu Sayyaf suspect, Jimmy Bla, elsewhere in Zamboanga, Aguirre said.

Bla owns several powerful motorboats and is believed to have been providing “fast sea transport” to kidnappers, the justice department added.

The two suspects have denied involvement in terrorist activities. — AFP