RP Troops Searching For Kidnapped Italian Missioner Clash With Abu Sayyaf, MILF

July 10, 2007 at 7:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BASILAN ISLAND(Mindanao Examiner / 10 Jul) – Philippine troops tracking down a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest clashed Tuesday with hundreds of suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the southern island of Basilan, officials said.

One soldier was killed and two more were injured in the fighting that erupted at around 10 a.m. in the town of Al-Barka, said Marine Colonel Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief.

He said the soldiers were checking reports that Father Giancarlo Bossi, kidnapped on June 10 in Zamboanga Sibugay province, was sighted in the town. The report turned out to be false.

“Troops were verifying reports that Father Bossi was spotted in the area, but it turned out negative. Our forces were returning to base when they came under fire and fighting broke out,” Alivio told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said as the fighting raged, the number of gunmen was also swelling until it reached 500.

Military intelligence sources in Basilan said as many as 7 militants were killed and wounded in the fighting, but there could be more casualties as battle continued well into the night.

It said MILF forces in Basilan have sided with the Abu Sayyaf group and fought against government troops.

Acting Filipino Defense chief Norberto Gonzales has told Margherita Boniver, special envoy of the Italian government, that the 57-year old priest from Milan is being held by Abu Sayyaf militants.

Boniver, who was in the Philippines last week, expressed caution about Abu Sayyaf.
“There are other theories about the kidnappers, for example, the head of the army mentioned former members of the Islamic Liberation Front,” she said.

Bossi’s group, the Rome-based Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere, doubted the Abu Sayyaf group tied to al-Qaeda terror network is holding the priest.Philippine military and police officials have tagged Akiddin Abdusallam, a rogue leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as mastermind in the kidnapping.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group has denied involvement in the kidnapping, but said Bossi’s captors were demanding “tens of millions of pesos” in ransom.

Last week, three undated photographs of Bossi in captivity were sent through cell phone to his friend Spanish priest Angel Calvo in Zamboanga City.

Military sources said a former Basilan town mayor was the source of the photos. It was unclear how the former official was able to get the photos.

Philippine authorities were investigating the authenticity of the photos, all showing Bossi sitting on a boulder surrounded by young trees. One photograph showed Bossi holding a transistor radio.

PIME said it has no contact with the kidnappers. Bossi is the third Italian priest kidnapped in the past year in the southern Philippines.

Rogue MILF rebels kidnapped Father Luciano Benedetti, 52, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998 and held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.

In 2001, renegade MILF rebels and members of the bandit group called Pentagon Gang also snatched Father Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur.

The priest was freed after six months in captivity in exchange for an unspecified ransom, but he claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers.

Benedetti now has been following developments in the Bossi kidnapping case closely from the start, from the regional house of PIME in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner)

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