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Justice Department Announces Charges for Abu Sayyaf Rebels

Aired July 23, 2002 - 13:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take you now over to the Department of Justice where Larry Thompson, deputy attorney general, is now talking about those charges against five Philippine rebels who are linked to al Qaeda. Let's listen in.

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LARRY THOMPSON, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Tragically, the American missionary Martin Burnham and the Filipina nurse Ediborah Yap died during a firefight on June 7, 2002, when the Philippine military forces encountered the Abu Sayyaf Group holding the American missionaries. Fortunately, Gracia Burnham, who was shot in the leg during the encounter, was rescued.

Today's indictment updates the previous indictment by adding Martin Burnham and Ms. Yap to the list of people whose death resulted from these criminal acts. With today's indictment, the United States sends a signal: We will work to track down and prosecute all those who commit barbaric acts of terrorism against Americans here at home and abroad. The Justice Department is committed to working with the government of the Philippines to bring the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group to justice.

The conspiracy charged in the indictment dates back to August 2000, when the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnapped Mr. Jeffrey Schilling, an American who was then living in the southern Philippines. Mr. Schilling was held hostage for more than seven months. During Mr. Schilling's captivity, some of the demands made by the Abu Sayyaf Group, as alleged in the indictment, were the release of certain convicted prisoners in the United States and the payment of $10 million in ransom. The indictment desires how the Abu Sayyaf Group repeatedly made known its threats to kill Mr. Schilling if their demands were not met. Mr. Schilling eventually managed to escape from captivity on April 12th of 2001, more than seven months after being held as a hostage.

Now, today's indictment, today's indictment alleges on May 27, 2001, about six weeks after Mr. Schilling's escape, the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnapped 20 individuals, including three U.S. citizens -- Martin Burnham, Gracia Burnham and a Mr. Guillermo Sobero -- from the Dos Palmas island resort, which is a dive resort located in the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The Abu Sayyaf Group again threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met. On June 11 of 2001, the Abu Sayyaf Group brutally beheaded American hostage Mr. Sobero. The next day, one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group allegedly called into a Philippine radio station to take credit on behalf of the group for the barbaric killing of Mr. Sobero.

Since 1997, the Abu Sayyaf Group has been designated by our State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. The group's written charter allegedly states, among other things, that the purpose of the group is either to establish an Islamic government in the southern Philippines, or to reach martyrdom in Allah's way.

The five leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group, or ASG, who are named in the indictment, are as follows: Khadafi Abubaker Janjalani, also known as Abu Mukatar, who serves as an emir or spiritual leader of the ASG; Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, also known as Abu Musab, also known as the Deputy, who serves as the deputy or second in command to the emir of the ASG; Aldam Tilao, also known as Abu Sabaya, also known as Abu Khatada (ph), who serves as the spokesperson for the ASG; and Jainal Antel Sali Jr., also known as Abu Solaiman, also known as the Engineer, who serves as a commander for the ASG, as well as an intelligence officer and occasionally as a spokesperson; and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali, also known as Jose Ramirez, also known as Tubercus (ph), who serves as a commander and group leader for the ASG.

I would like to thank U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard and his office. I'd also like to thank Van Harp, the FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington Field Office, and the Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section of the Criminal Division here at the Department of Justice...

PHILLIPS: Five Abu Sayyaf commanders charged with murder, that is according to Larry Thompson, deputy attorney general there at the Justice Department, talking about these charges against five Philippine rebels linked to al Qaeda in connection with last month's killing of American missionary Martin Burnham.

Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She has been listening in also -- quite a victory for the justice department, Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these -- the people that have been indicted are not yet in custody, so let's keep that in mind. This is, also, a superseding indictment. There was an indictment in relation to -- to these men that was under seal. This indictment, not under seal, adds some more information and charges relating to the death of Martin Burnham, the American missionary, and also another American, Guillermo Sobero, who the Justice Department says were killed by Abu Sayyaf.

And the indictment does not mention any connection to al Qaeda, but as you know, U.S. officials have long connected the Abu Sayyaf group to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and for a time, have offered some money for a reward up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or the capture of Abu Sayyaf commanders. So this is a group that has long been on the radar screen, as you heard, from the deputy attorney general, since 1997. It has been designated a terrorist organization -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena, thank you so much.

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