- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) - Three Red Cross hostages survived two days of fierce jungle clashes that killed three marines and up to seven al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf captors in the southern Philippines, officials said Wednesday.

The Italian, Swiss and Filipino aid workers, their hands tied, were seen running with their captors toward a mountain after the militants fought with marines near Indanan township on southern Jolo Island, police Chief Superintendent Bensali Jabarani said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the local Red Cross, said he spoke with Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad by mobile phone and was told the hostages, who have been held for more than two months, were unharmed.

Gordon strongly criticized the marines for opening fire on the Abu Sayyaf gunmen Monday because it could have provoked the militants to hurt the hostages.

“They’re alive but very, very tired and sleepy,” Gordon told a news briefing.

Gordon asked the military to investigate the marine snipers who fired the shots and renewed an appeal to the military to avoid doing anything that could endanger the hostages.

“Supposing they proceeded to chop off the heads of these people?” Gordon said.

The military reported no further clashes Wednesday.

Marine officials said sharpshooters fired at Abu Sayyaf gunmen led by Parad when they tried to break out of a loose cordon set up by government forces near Indanan. The ABS-CBN television network and Gordon reported that Parad said he was wounded by gunfire.

Parad reiterated that he will not negotiate unless troops back off from his jungle stronghold and warned any further clashes might cause the death of the hostages, Gordon said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres said troops could ease some security operations to allow negotiations but that they would not withdraw from their current positions.

Three marines and up to seven militants were killed in the sporadic clashes, including a locally prominent Abu Sayyaf commander, Jul Asbi Jalmani, Torres said, adding 19 marines were wounded.

The Abu Sayyaf has about 400 members and is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations for its links with al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.

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