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U.S. charges Abu Sayyaf leaders in kidnappings

Philippine troops
U.S. advisers are helping Philippine troops battle Abu Sayyaf.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Justice Department has released a five-count indictment against five members of the Philippine Islamic Abu Sayyaf rebel group in connection with the kidnappings and deaths of Americans and Filipinos.

The charges of hostage-taking and conspiracy include the deaths of U.S. missionary Martin Burnham and Filipina nurse Ediborah Yap, killed during a gun battle between their captors and Philippine troops in June.

Burnham's wife, Gracia, was wounded but survived the clash. The Burnhams had been held for more than a year, and another American kidnapped with their group, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded in June 2001.

Abu Sayyaf has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization and the U.S. State Department designated it a terrorist organization in 1997. None of those charged are in custody, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said.

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Those indicted were two Abu Sayyaf commanders, Jainal Antel Sali Jr. and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali; the group's spiritual leader, Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani; deputy commander Isnilon Totoni Hapilon; and Abu Sayyaf spokesman Aldam Tilao.

Each is charged with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in death, hostage-taking, hostage-taking resulting in death and aiding and abetting.

Tuesday's indictment was first returned in February, but had been sealed in order to protect those who were still held by the guerrillas. It was revised this week to include the killings of Burnham and Yap.

According to the indictment, from August 2000 to early June 2002, the men knowingly and intentionally conspired to seize, detain, threaten to kill and injure victims, including four U.S. nationals.

According to the indictment, the deaths of Sobero and Burnham, both U.S. citizens, and non-Americans Sonny Dacquer, Armando Bayona and Ediborah Yap resulted from the conspiracy to commit hostage-taking.

The charges also cover the August 2000 kidnapping of Jeffrey Schilling, an American living in the southern Philippines. He was held captive seven months before escaping in April 2001. Before he fled, his kidnappers had demanded a $10 million ransom and the release of certain U.S. prisoners.

After those kidnappings, the indictment says the men sought ransom, demanded that the Philippine government cease military operations against them, demanded the release of prisoners in the United States and called for other actions.




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