Monday, July 20, 2009

Philippine emergency prolonged to rout militants

A state of emergency declared in a southern Philippine province during a hostage crisis will continue indefinitely to support a new offensive to finish off al-Qaida-linked militants.

The Provincial Gov. placed all of Sulu, including the main Jolo Island, under emergency rule in March when Abu Sayyaf militants threatened to behead three kidnapped Red Cross aid workers. That empowered the governor to order rapid checkpoints, searches, arrests of suspected militants and impose curfews. The militants have since released the hostages from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines. The last hostage, Italian Eugenio Vagni, walked free July 12 after six months of jungle captivity, ending one of the country's worst hostage crises in recent years.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 gunmen on Jolo and nearby Basilan island and the Zamboanga peninsula, is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations because of bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings of hostages. The group is suspected of having received funds and training from al-Qaida.

Thousands of Philippine marines, army troops and police commandos have already been deployed to Jolo, a predominantly Muslim island 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila. Over the weekend, 600 more troops were deployed to Basilan and Jolo, and 200 more police special action forces will be sent to Basilan within weeks.

Government troops also have been ordered to hunt down three key members of the Southeast Asian radical network Jemaah Islamiyah who have been hiding with the Abu Sayyaf.

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