U.S. Charges 6 More Abu Sayyaf Members
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Six additional members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim separatist group were charged Tuesday in a string of kidnappings and murders in the Philippines that left two Americans dead.
The new charges, included in a federal grand jury indictment, bring to 11 the number of Abu Sayyaf members charged in the crimes, which date to August 2000. If captured and convicted, each could face the death penalty. Three of the new defendants are in custody in the Philippines.
``The U.S. government is committed to tracking down and prosecuting these terrorists responsible for the death of innocent Americans in the Philippines,″ said Attorney General John Ashcroft in a statement.
The indictment supersedes charges brought in July against five Abu Sayyaf leaders, adding two counts of murder in the killings of Americans Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham as well as weapons charges. All 11 face those new charges as well as hostage-taking, hostage-taking resulting in death and conspiracy resulting in death.
Burnham and his wife, Gracia, both missionaries from Wichita, Kan., were kidnapped in May 2001 and held for more than a year. Burnham died in a gun battle between Abu Sayyaf members and Filipino troops; his wife was wounded but survived.
Sobero, of Corona, Calif., was also kidnapped in May 2001 and was beheaded a month later. Abu Sayyaf members called a Filipino radio station to claim responsibility for the crime, authorities said.
The charges also involve the August 2000 kidnapping of Jeffrey Schilling, of Oakland, Calif., who was held more than seven months while the Abu Sayyaf group demanded $10 million in ransom or he would be killed. Schilling escaped in April 2001.
Abu Sayyaf, an Arabic phrase meaning ``Bearer of the Sword,″ is among the top U.S. targets in the war on terrorism. Justice Department officials say the group intends to establish an Islamic government in the southern Philippines or die trying.
The new indictment was brought against these Abu Sayyaf members: local commanders Wohab Opao, Bakkal Totoni Hapilon and Abdul Azzam Ngaya; and group members Alhamzer Limbong Manatad, Toting Craft Hanno and Abdul Mukim Edris. Hanno, Edris and Ngaya are in custody.
Also charged previously were several top members of Abu Sayyaf, including its spiritual leader, Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani, and the second-in-command, Isnilon Totoni Hapilon. A $5 million reward has been offered by the United States for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the five leaders charged.
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