2 Abu Sayyaf men held for Dos Palmas kidnappings

Agence France Presse

Posted at Sep 13 2012 02:03 PM | Updated as of Sep 14 2012 03:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Two Al Qaeda-linked militants have been arrested in the Philippines over a 2001 kidnapping of a group of tourists in which two American hostages were murdered, a military official said Thursday.

The Abu Sayyaf members were arrested on the southern island of Mindanao on Wednesday following an 11-year manhunt for the killers of Christian missionary Martin Burnham and fellow American citizen, Peru-born Guillermo Sobero.

Regional military commander Major-General Ricardo Rainier Cruz said Jojo Imam Pai and a second suspect identified only by the military as "Aling" are to stand trial for the double murder and kidnapping of 20 tourists.

Abu Sayyaf militants raided the Dos Palmas island beach resort in the western Philippines in 2001 and forced 20 local and foreign tourists as well as local staff into boats, taking them to the gunmen's Basilan island stronghold.

Most of the hostages were eventually released after ransoms were paid, but the kidnappers beheaded Sobero and brought Burnham and his fellow missionary wife Gracia Burnham to another hideout on Mindanao island near Basilan.

Martin Burnham was killed by the kidnappers and his wife wounded in a botched Philippine military rescue attempt in 2002.

In the succeeding years most of the kidnap leaders were later killed or sent to prison in a series of military operations, though the manhunt for the other suspects continues.

Founded using seed money from the Al Qaeda in the 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country.

These include a 2004 ferry bombing that killed more than 100 and a string of deadly kidnappings targeting foreigners and locals in the south.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf. However the Americans are barred from taking part in combat.

At least five foreigners -- a Dutchman, a Swiss national, an Australian, a Malaysian trader, and a Japanese man -- are believed to still be held by the Abu Sayyaf and other outlawed groups in the south since 2010.