- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

CEBU, Philippines Two American hostages being held in the southern Philippines by Muslim rebels have appeared on national television.

They were forced to read an anti-Western rant strikingly similar to that of Osama bin Laden.

Martin Burnham, a Christian missionary taken kidnapped with his wife nine months ago by Abu Sayyaf rebels, recited five reasons the bandits were "targeting U.S., European and other Western nations."

The videotape, shown Thursday on three national networks, was the first time the Burnhams have been seen since November, when a reporter for a local TV station taped them at a rebel hideout on Basilan, an island-province in the far southwestern Philippines.

That reporter, Aryln de la Cruz, disappeared nearly two months ago when she again tried to reach the terrorist camp.

Mr. Burnham, who appeared on the latest video guarded by three heavily armed, hooded terrorists, said the Abu Sayyaf had targeted Westerners because their nations were responsible for persecuting Muslims.

The statement read by the Kansas native also cited American "support to the Philippine government's illegal and immoral annexation and occupation of Muslim lands" in the southern Philippines.

It also criticized the United States for support of the "Israeli occupation of Palestine," sanctions against Iraq and Libya, and the "desecration" of Saudi Arabia by U.S. military personnel.

A Philippine government spokesman rejected the rebels' claims made through the video and said the release of the hostages is non-negotiable. "The government is not going to be pressured by this," Agence France-Presse quoted National Security Adviser Roilo Golez as saying yesterday.

More than 650 U.S. troops are in the Philippines advising Philippine forces on the ongoing battle with the Abu Sayyaf, which is linked to bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group.

Kidnappings of locals and foreigners in recent years have yielded about $20 million in ransom payments for the guerrillas and have tarnished the country's international reputation, chasing away both tourists and foreign investment.

"Many people critical of the U.S. deployment here say the Abu Sayyaf link to al Qaeda is tenuous," said a foreign diplomat who requested anonymity. "But spouting demands like these certainly seems to align them with bin Laden."

The Abu Sayyaf, which in Arabic means "bearer of the sword," was formed more than a decade ago by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, a student from Basilan who studied in Libya and Saudi Arabia and fought in Afghanistan.

Philippine intelligence sources say the group in its early days received money and other support from Jamal Mohammed Khalifa, a brother-in-law of bin Laden who formed a series of front groups in the Philippines linked to terrorist activities.

Janjalani, who was killed four years ago, had links with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the now-jailed mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Much of the money the group has received in recent years came from Libya, which helped pay the ransom for a group of mostly foreign tourists kidnapped from a Malaysian diving resort in April 2000 and later held in the Philippines.

A year later, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the Burnhams and 11 others from a Philippine resort, beheading American hostage Guillermo Sobreo in June 2001. Of those hostages, only the Burnhams and a Philippines nurse continue to be held.

Manila television stations say they received the tape of the Burnhams from a "mercenary" journalist, an apparent reference to a reporter who either paid the Abu Sayyaf for access or agreed to split proceeds from the sale of the tape to Western media.

Gracia Burnham sat quietly next to her husband as he read the rebel demands, but she can be seen at one point rolling her eyes. While the Manila networks were told the tape was shot in January, there was speculation that it was actually filmed around the same time as tape aired in November.


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