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Accused to Be Tried in Philippines

July 24, 2002

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The five alleged leaders of the brutal Abu Sayyaf group who have been indicted by the United States would be tried in the Philippines if they are arrested in the Southeast Asian nation, a government official said Wednesday.

Justice Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee said the men, charged Tuesday in a U.S. federal indictment with the kidnapping and killing of Americans in the Philippines, face similar charges in the Philippines and their trial here ``will take precedence″ if an ongoing military pursuit finds them.

Teehankee said the Philippines and the United States are closely cooperating to apprehend the Abu Sayyaf leaders as part of the global hunt for suspected terrorists.

Bilateral legal assistance treaties would have to be invoked if officials decide later to extradite them to the United States, he said.

Officials of the two countries had ``prior close coordination″ before U.S. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson announced on Monday the charges of conspiracy resulting in death, hostage-taking and three counts of hostage-taking resulting in death.

Teehankee said terrorist leaders pose a threat wherever in the world they may be.

``The whole idea in this global manhunt is because each of them in and of themselves is a danger,″ he said. ``In the global fight against terrorism, we apprehend them wherever they may be found.″

In Washington, Thompson said the indictments were a ``signal″ from the United States.

``We will work to track down and prosecute all those who commit barbaric acts of terrorism here at home and abroad,″ he said.

The federal indictments identified the five Abu Sayyaf leaders as Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani, spiritual leader of the group; Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, the second in command; Aldam Tilao, the group’s spokesman; Jainal Antel Sali Jr., an intelligence officer; and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali, a group leader.

Tilao, also known as Abu Sabaya, was believed killed in a gunbattle at sea last month. His body has not been found. The four others are targets of a U.S.-backed military chase.

The United States deployed about 1,000 Green Berets, military engineers and support personnel for a six-month counterterrorism exercise designed to help the Philippine military wipe out the Abu Sayyaf in the first extension of the U.S.-led war on terrorism outside Afghanistan. The exercise ends next Wednesday, but more training is scheduled to start in October.

The Abu Sayyaf began a kidnapping spree in May 2001, seizing 102 people overall, including three Americans _ missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif.

Sobero was beheaded less than a month after he was abducted along with the Burnhams and 17 Filipinos from an island resort.

On June 7, Filipino soldiers rescued Gracia Burnham, but her husband and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were killed in the raid.

With help from U.S. surveillance and tracking devices, U.S.-trained soldiers caught up two weeks later with a boat carrying a group led by Abu Sabaya. Troops said they believe he was shot and killed.

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