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Ex-Philippines Hostage May Testify

October 12, 2002

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ An American missionary who survived 377 days of captivity in the jungles of the southern Philippines is willing to return to the country to testify against her al-Qaida-linked abductors, an official said Saturday.

Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., was shot in the thigh during a June 7 military rescue operation in which her husband, Martin, and a Filipino nurse, Ediborah Yap, were killed. The Burnhams were snatched by the Abu Sayyaf group in May 2001, at the start of a kidnapping spree that eventually involved 102 hostages, some of whom were beheaded or hacked to death.

``We were told by our U.S counterparts that Gracia is willing to cooperate ... and would return to the Philippines to testify,″ Justice Secretary Hernando Perez said in a radio interview. He did not say when.

Another former hostage, Jeffrey Schilling of Oakland, Calif., left Manila on Saturday after testifying the previous two days at the trial of Hector Janjalani, an alleged Abu Sayyaf leader facing charges of kidnapping, murder and drug possession, and another Abu Sayyaf member, Perez said.

He said Schilling also identified from photographs several other Abu Sayyaf leaders who are at large.

Schilling’s return to the Philippines was kept secret until he testified in court. He was heavily guarded throughout his stay, and two FBI agents accompanied him to the country.

Perez said Schilling’s testimony bolstered the case against the group, explaining that obtaining a conviction would be difficult without his account of his eight months in captivity. He escaped a month before the Burnhams were abducted.

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