Philippine troops nab guerrillas

Associated Press

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Government troops in the Philippines have captured three Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, including an officer in charge of the Muslim separatist group’s communications, military officials said Sunday.

In addition to holding hostages, including Americans, the Abu Sayyaf has links to exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, the military has said. Bin Laden, who is believed to be in Afghanistan, is a prime suspect in last week’s terror attacks in the United States.

The three rebels were captured Saturday on the southern island of Basilan, where government troops have been waging a massive offensive to destroy the rebel force and rescue their hostages.

A military spokesman, Col. Jose Mabanta, said the rebel communications expert, Itang Awal Isnual, was stopped along with an aide by soldiers at a checkpoint near the village of Lamitan.

Mabanta said Isnual was wearing a disguise but was recognized by villagers and a military informer.

A third guerrilla was arrested by policemen in the town of Tuburanon Saturday, but his identity has been withheld pending follow-up raids, police chief inspector Gerry Bayabos said.

In early June, Abu Sayyaf guerrillas occupied a hospital and a church in Lamitan, bringing along 20 hostages they seized from a resort, including missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif.

Abu Sayyaf rebels say they are fighting for Muslim independence in the southern region of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. The government regards them as mere bandits.

The government is pursuing peace talks with a larger rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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