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1/6/03 - BUSTING ABU SAYYAF - 2003-01-07

Philippine security forces have captured another senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf [ah-boo sigh-ahf] terrorist group. Merang Abante [meh-rahng ah-bahn-the] was arrested January 2nd near Zamboanga [zahm-boh-ahn-gha] in the southern Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf is the most vicious of the Islamic separatist groups operating in the southern Philippines. With ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, the Abu Sayyaf Group seeks to establish, by force, an extremist Muslim state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. But its operations have primarily focused on kidnapping people for ransom. Abu Sayyaf has close ties to and receives support from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan, South Asia, and the Middle East.

Abu Sayyaf terrorists have murdered civilians, including Americans. They have bombed churches, assassinated government officials, blown up a bus and a civilian airliner, and attacked tourist resorts. Their violence is marked by great cruelty, including decapitation and mutilation of their victims. In April 1995, Abu Sayyaf gunmen savagely attacked the predominately Roman Catholic village of Ipil. They burned the town center, murdered fifty-three men, women, and children, wounded forty-four others, and took thirteen hostages.

Far from giving in to Abu Sayyaf terrorists, the Philippine government has waged a relentless military campaign to defeat them. The arrest of Merang Abante attests to the growing effectiveness of that campaign. Last April, Philippine troops freed an American held hostage by Abu Sayyaf on Jolo island. In June, another captive, an American missionary, was freed when security forces attacked an Abu Sayyaf camp. Two other hostages were killed during the fighting. The next month, Philippine authorities captured several Abu Sayyaf commanders responsible for conducting terrorist attacks.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has declared "all-out war" on Abu Sayyaf terrorism. In that effort, the Philippine government has the full support of the U.S. Terrorism threatens people everywhere. As President George W. Bush said, "with the help of a broad coalition, we will make certain that terrorists and their supporters are not safe in any cave or corner of the world."