Suspected guerrilla contacts arrested

Friday, March 8, 2002

ISABELA, Philippines -- Police arrested eight alleged supporters of Muslim extremists, including wives of suspected rebels, partly as psychological warfare against the captors of an American couple in the southern Philippines, officials said Thursday.

Law enforcement authorities arrested four men and four women accused of aiding Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

The guerrillas are holding Wichita, Kan., missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.

About 160 U.S. Special Forces are on the island training Filipinos to fight the group, which has been linked to al-Qaida.

The suspects were charged with murder but it's not immediately clear who they are accused of killing.

The mayor of the Basilan town of Maluso, Sakib Salajin, said the arrests were to pressure guerrillas to surrender or release their hostages.

"If we get their wives, their resolve will weaken because our planning is to mentally torture (the rebels)," said Salajin, who said he helped plan the arrests. His security staff detained the suspects late last month.

From the provincial jail in Isabela, the suspects denied any involvement with the Abu Sayyaf and said they were not aware of any charges against them.

The Abu Sayyaf have been holding the Burnhams in Basilan jungles for more than nine months.

U.S. soldiers are training Filipino counterparts in counterterrorism tactics in a six-month exercise aimed at wiping out the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network believed responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The 660-strong U.S. contingent includes 160 special forces soldiers deployed to Basilan to observe Filipino soldiers on the front-lines. They are armed for self-defense only.

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