Islamic rebels seize American in Philippines

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The Philippines hostage crisis took a new turn yesterday when Islamic rebels said they had kidnapped an American in addition to 18 others already being held to ransom.

The Philippines hostage crisis took a new turn yesterday when Islamic rebels said they had kidnapped an American in addition to 18 others already being held to ransom.

Filipino officials confirmed yesterday evening that an American man had been abducted by the Abu Sayyaf Islamic guerrilla group.

A spokesman for the group told Western news agencies and Philippines radio that 24-year-old Jeffrey Craig Edwards Schilling is a CIA agent and threatened to kill him if its demands were not met. "Wedemand for our principles, we demand for our religion, we demand for our ideology," the spokesman, Abu Sabaya, told Reuters, without saying what the demands were.

He added: "We have been trying very hard to get an American because the Americans may think we are afraid of them. We will not hesitate to execute this American guy if the Philippine government and the US will not listen."

The kidnapping came as the crisis seemed to be unwinding. Yesterday, six of those released at the weekend arrived in Tripoli where they were due to meet the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, whose government helped to negotiate their release. A ceremony was arranged at the site of the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli in which Colonel Gaddafi's adopted daughter was killed, although Colonel Gaddafi did not attend.

The French minister for cooperation, Charles Josselin, said relations with Libya would improve due to its part in the release, although Tripoli is said to have supplied money and arms to Filipino Islamic groups in the past. "Our relations had been moving for several months already into a phase of normalisation," he said on French radio yesterday, adding: "This positive action by Libya in the release of the hostages can only improve relations between our two countries."

Abu Sayyaf is believed to have been paid millions of dollars for those released so far, but officially the governments involved deny this because of the international principle that paying off kidnappers encourages them to strike again.

Nothing illustrates the point better than the seizure of Mr Schilling. Far from a ransom placating Abu Sayyaf, the world now faces a well-funded and well-armed group with thousands of new recruits, which is still intent on tweaking the noses of the West.

"If the US government and [Joseph] Estrada [the Philippine President] does not [intervene] here, we may liquidate this man," Mr Sabaya told Reuters. "Then next week we will get another hostage and do the same thing to him. The Americans may think we are afraid but we are determined to get an American."

According to his girlfriend, a Filipina woman named Ivi Osani, she and Mr Schilling were living in Zamboanga, a city on the southern island of Mindanao. There they befriended Abu Sayyaf members who took them to their base on Jolo island on Monday. Mr Schilling then told her to return to Zamboanga and not until she got home did she realise he had been kidnapped.

Mr Sabaya said the American had identified himself as a Muslim convert, but aroused the guerrillas' suspicion because of his evident ignorance of Islam. Inquiries at the Philippine immigration department revealed that Mr Schilling had entered the country on 8 March and made three applications for a visa extension.

Roberto Aventajado, the Filipino official who has led the negotiations, said he would have to consult President Estrada about how the new kidnapping would affect the agreement for the release of the other hostages. The remaining captives were meant to have been released within the next week.

What remains unclear is whether the involvement of an American will now bring further pressure to bear from Washington. When the first hostages were seized four months ago, an American couple who were with them narrowly escaped the kidnappers before leaving the Malaysian island.