Kidnapped Italian priest released after six months

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

MANILA, Philippines -- With the safe recovery Monday of an Italian priest abducted by Muslim rebels in the Philippines six months ago, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed to step up the fight against gangs who kidnap for ransom.

Giuseppe "Beppe" Pierantoni, 45, was kidnapped Oct. 17 in southern Zamboanga del Sur province by the "Pentagon" group, believed to be composed of former Muslim separatist rebels. The group is on Washington's list of terrorist organizations.

Freed early Monday in the coastal town of Tungawan in Mindanao, Pierantoni was checked by a doctor and quickly transported to Manila.

"Welcome back, Father," a beaming Arroyo greeted Pierantoni on his arrival at the presidential palace.

But she had strong words for his captors, pledging: "We will not rest until this scourge has been wiped out of our land.'

Arroyo called on the army and national police force to intensify operations to wipe out the Pentagon and other kidnap-for-ransom gangs, saying, "My marching orders: Give them no quarter. Annihilate them."

Thin but happy

Appearing thin but happy, a newly shaven Pierantoni called his release a "miracle of prayer."

"I believe that after six months of living in the forest and trying to escape the police and army, that it was a miracle that I got free without any harm," he said.

National Police Chief Leandro Mendoza said police captured several Pentagon members two days ago and obtained details about the priest's whereabouts that allowed the military to tighten its cordon around the gang.

But officials gave few details of the operation to free Pierantoni.

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