- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The United States yesterday charged five rebel leaders of an Islamic militant group linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network with kidnapping and killing of U.S. nationals in the Philippines.

The five leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group were indicted in the killing June 7 of American missionary Martin Burnham and the kidnapping of Mr. Burnham's wife, Gracia Burnham, who was wounded in a gunbattle but rescued. The members were also indicted in the killing June 11, 2001 of another American hostage, Peruvian-born Guillermo Sobero.

"With today's indictment, the United States sends a signal that we will work to track down and prosecute all those who commit barbaric acts of terrorism against Americans here at home and abroad. The United States sends a signal," said Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson at a news conference announcing the indictments yesterday.

"The Justice Department is committed to working with the government of the Philippines to bring the leaders of Abu Sayyaf to justice," he said.

Officials have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest or capture of the five commanders of Abu Sayyaf, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization with links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. For decades, the guerrilla group has waged a militant campaign to create a separate Islamic state in the mainly Catholic country.

The five leaders, none of whom is in custody, identified in the indictments yesterday are: Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani, spiritual leader of the group; Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, the second in command; Aldam Tilao, spokesman; Jainal Antel Sali Jr., an intelligence officer; and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali, a group leader.

They have been charged with conspiracy resulting in death, hostage-taking and three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death. The conspiracy is purported to date to August 2000, with the kidnapping of American Jeffrey Schilling, who later escaped.

The members could face the death penalty on four of the five counts, if they are caught, brought to the United States for trial and convicted, Justice Department officials said.

The indictments come a month after Philippine forces reported the killing of Abu Sabaya, a leader of the rebels who was involved in the Burnham kidnapping, which took place as the couple celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary. Sabaya reportedly died at sea in a gunbattle between Philippine naval special forces and Abu Sayyaf rebels.

The indictment yesterday mirrors a previous indictment returned under seal in February. Mr. Thompson said the first indictment was kept under seal so as not to further endanger the lives of the hostages, who were held by Abu Sayyaf for more than a year in the Philippines.

Last month, Mr. Burnham, 42, was killed in a military rescue mission. Also killed were a Phillipine nurse, Ediborah Yap, who was being held captive, and three of the guerrillas. Mrs. Burnham was wounded with a gunshot to the thigh. Seven soldiers were also injured.

A year earlier, Mr. Sobero was "brutally beheaded" by the rebels, Mr. Thompson said.

The Burnhams and Miss Yap were held captive for about a year. The Burnhams, from Wichita, Kan., spent the last 15 years as Catholic missionaries. The couple were the longest-held foreign captives in the Philippines since the guerrillas began taking hostages in the 1970s.

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