Philippines welcomes convictions of 3 abductors of Americans

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2015 8:46 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine police and military officials said Monday they were pressing on with a manhunt for about 30 kidnapping suspects after three Muslim militants were convicted of the 2011 abductions of an American woman, her teenage son and a Filipino relative vacationing in the country's south.

A regional court convicted the three Abu Sayyaf militants last week and sentenced them to life in prison for the July 12, 2011, kidnappings of Gerfa Lunsmann, her American son Kevin and her Filipino relative Romnick Jakaria from an island beach cottage off Zamboanga city.

Regional government prosecutor Peter Medalle said the convictions would serve as a warning amid a series of kidnappings for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf of foreign and Filipino hostages which have raised security alarms in the southern region home to a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.

"One of these convicted militants is also known for his bomb-making skills," Medalle said. "It's a relief that they would now be put away and not pose any danger to society."

Police Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro of Zamboanga city said government forces were hunting about 30 other militants involved in the kidnappings, including an Abu Sayyaf commander, Puruji Indama, who has been linked to bombings and beheadings.

Army Col. Rolando Joselito Bautista, a military commander in the nearby island province of Basilan, where the three hostages were held in the militants' jungle encampments, said his forces were working to track down the rest of the suspects, along with other Abu Sayyaf militants wanted for various acts of terrorism.

Last year, a U.S. jury indicted four Filipinos for the kidnappings of Gerfa Lunsmann, who was held for 82 days before being freed, and her son, who escaped after 151 days in jungle captivity. Her Filipino relative, Jakaria, also escaped.

The Philippine court said in its decision that the militants demanded $10 million for the captives' release and received more than $21,000 in ransom.

Citing Gerfa Lunsmann's testimony, the court said her son "was physically hurt by their captors and was forced to talk on the phone to his father to demand money from the latter as directed by his captors."

The United States and the Philippines have listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for conducting kidnappings, beheadings, extortion and bomb attacks. The al-Qaida-linked militants have been weakened but have survived more than a decade of U.S.-backed offensives.

The Abu Sayyaf is suspected of kidnapping two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina from a marina in the south in September.

Last week, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded a Malaysian man in southern Sulu province after demands for a huge ransom failed, prompting Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to order fresh offensives against the brutal group.