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Kidnapped Hostage Freed in Philippines


One of three Red Cross workers kidnapped in the Philippines by the extremist Abu Sayyaf group has been freed. Philippine officials welcomed her release, but it emerged that the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terrorist network may have been involved in the kidnapping - pointing to a link-up between two of Southeast Asia's most violent groups.

Mary Jean Lacaba returned to the capital, Manila, Friday. Her kidnappers, members of the Abu Sayyaf group, released her Thursday evening in Sulu province, after negotiations with local officials.

Earlier in the week, the group had threatened to kill one of the three Red Cross workers it kidnapped in January. It is still holding Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni. Officials say they are still alive, and the Red Cross again appealed for their release.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Philippine President Gloria Arroyo welcomed Lacaba's release.

"This morning, I was able to talk on the phone with Ms. Lacaba," said Mrs. Arroyo. "I told her I was happy that she was back with us."

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, who is leading the crisis team on the Red Cross kidnapping, says no ransom was paid for Lacaba.

But her release bared a more sinister aspect to the kidnapping. Philippine officials say a Jemaah Islamiyah militant was involved.

Philippine National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales says the man who claimed to be Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad during telephone negotiations was actually a J.I. militant named Muawiyah.

Gonzales confirmed that a Singaporean J.I. member was involved in the kidnapping, one of several Asian terrorists believed to be hiding in the southern Philippines.

Jemaah Islamiyah, which calls for an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, was behind a series of deadly attacks in the region in recent years. JI militants killed scores of people in bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002 and 2005.

Indonesia and the Philippines share a poorly secured maritime border. Security officials say some Jemaah Islamiyah militants have trained with Muslim separatists in Mindanao, others are believed to be hiding there.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a homeland in the southern Philippines for the country's Muslim minority. However, it is best known for kidnapping and extortion.

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