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Troops Move in on Muslim Extremists

June 8, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ U.S.-trained troops intensified an offensive to wipe out a Muslim extremist group Saturday after an American and a Filipino hostage died and another American was freed in a rescue mission.

Reinforcements were being sent to aid the 600 infantrymen chasing the Abu Sayyaf rebels now that the group has no more hostages. About 1,000 U.S. soldiers are advising the troops.

``We’re now in hot pursuit,″ said Philippine military Chief of Staff Gen. Roy Cimatu.

Philippine commandos rescued Wichita, Kan., missionary Gracia Burnham, who was shot in the leg. But her husband, Martin Burnham, and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were killed during the gunbattle with the rebels.

The body of Martin Burnham arrived Saturday at Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa while Gracia Burnham remained in the Philippines for medical treatment, said Kadena Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnston. It was unclear when they would return to the United States.

Cimatu said the rebels who fled during the raid included senior commanders, giving the military hope that it can soon crush the group with a decisive battle. Four rebels were killed in the shootout, and troops searching the site found the trademark sunglasses and the backpack of Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya.

``We are on our way to dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism exemplified by this Abu Sayyaf group,″ Cimatu said Saturday as he promoted the seven low-ranking soldiers wounded in the shootout.

President Bush said Friday he was assured by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that ``justice would be done.″

The United States has deployed unmanned spy planes along with Green Berets, helicopter pilots and military engineers who are supporting the Filipino troops hunting for the Abu Sayyaf.

The group was discovered near the village of Sirawai, some 40 miles from Basilan Island, where troops had been searching for them for months.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said Americans helped plan the rescue mission but no U.S. troops participated in the raid.

Philippine Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio said the Americans were crucial to the rescue mission. The commandos used U.S. silencers and night vision goggles, and Philippine officers credited U.S. surveillance with leading local troops to the hostages.

``This was only made possible because of the benefits we have derived from the conduct of the exercise,″ Teodosio said. ``The surveillance equipment of the Americans was very instrumental in locating where the Abu Sayyaf was.″

Yap and the Burnhams were the last remaining hostages after the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped dozens of people last year. Some were beheaded, while others escaped or were released, some reportedly for ransom.

Martin Burnham, 42, and Yap, 42, were killed by gunshots, although it was unclear who shot them.

Martin’s wife, Gracia, 43, underwent surgery in the southern city of Zamboanga and was flown to Manila for further treatment. Doctors said a bullet passed through her thigh.

``I was so happy when I got out of the jungle,″ Gracia Burnham was quoted as saying by doctors who treated her. She said she believed her husband’s death was part of God’s plan, they said.

``That is God’s liking. That is probably his destiny,″ she said, according to the doctors.

Doug Burnham, brother of the slain missionary, told reporters in Rose Hill, Kan., that the family talked to Gracia by phone on Friday.

``She said she wants to come back as quickly as possible to be with the children,″ Doug Burnham said. The couple has three children ages 11, 12, and 15.

``It is going to be real hard for the kids with Father’s Day coming up,″ said Teresa Burnham, Doug Burnham’s wife.

She said she talked to Gracia and that ``her voice sounded so normal I wouldn’t believe she has been through what she has been through.″

The Burnhams were kidnapped from a resort on May 27, 2001. Yap was taken hostage a few days later when the Abu Sayyaf raided a hospital in the southern town of Lamitan to seize hospital staff to treat their wounded.

The guerrillas kidnapped 18 other people along with the Burnhams, including 17 Filipinos and Corona, California, resident Guillermo Sobero.

Sobero was beheaded by the guerrillas in June 2001, according to U.S. and Filipino officials.

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