Rebels grab six Filipino Jehovah's Witnesses

Thursday, August 22, 2002

PATIKUL, Philippines -- The kidnapping of six Jehovah's Witnesses selling Avon cosmetics in a remote village demonstrates that the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf remains dangerous despite a U.S.-backed military offensive aimed at wiping out the group.

The incident was a blow to the Philippine government, which had said just weeks ago it was shifting some resources away from the war on Abu Sayyaf because the group had been decimated and was on the run.

Officials had warned, however, the group could not be written off. They noted at least eight top leaders were at large and said it would be a daunting task to boost the economy of the Muslim-dominated southern Philippines, where harsh poverty fuels anti-government sentiment.

The kidnapping Tuesday on the troubled southern island of Jolo was the first by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas since American soldiers arrived in February on a six-month mission to train Filipino troops in counterterrorism tactics. It was the first U.S. operation outside the Afghanistan front in Washington's war on international terrorist groups.

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