Islamic militant group holding at least 7 more hostages

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THE al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf is holding at least seven more foreigners and local residents as hostages after it freed Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani late Wednesday.

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A Manila-based police intelligence officer who requested not to be named said two Lebanese sisters, a Japanese treasure hunter and two European birdwatchers remain captives of the group.

The sisters, Linda Bansil 35 and Nadjoua, 29, were seized while doing a film documentary on Muslim farmers in Patikul, Sulu last June.

A Japanese treasure hunter, Amer Mamaito Katayama, was snatched while on an expedition in Pangutaram Island in Sulu on July 2010.

The police intelligence officer said Katayama has been utilized as a cook by his captors.

Dutchman Ewold Horn and Swiss Lorenzo Vinciquerra were on a birdwatching expedition when they were abducted in February 2012 in Barangay Parangan, Panglima-Sugala town in Tawi-Tawi.

The Abu Sayyaf is also holding Jess Cabilin, the provincial treasurer of Sulu who was snatched last November 18 near his office in Patikul, and Edgardo “Eddie” Fabella, a businessman who was dragged from his home in Barangay Maasin in Zamboanga City last January.

In March, the group freed Australian Warren Rodwell from 15 months in captivity. Philippine negotiators said his family had paid a $100,000 ransom.

Rodwell was seized in December 2011, and his captors had initially demanded $2 million for his safe release.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin puts the number of Abu Sayyaf hostages at 17.

“Last week, I was able to talk with (a) congressman and he said there are 20. The Jordanian and two others have been released so there are still 17 remaining,” Gazmin said.

Jolo is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including bombings and abductions of foreigners and missionaries.

US special forces have been rotating through Jolo and other parts of the southern Philippines for more than a decade to train local troops battling the group, which is on Washington’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations”.

Anthony Vargas, William Depasupil and AFP

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