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US Offers Reward for Capture of Abu Sayyaf Leaders

The United States is offering a reward of up to $5 million for help in capturing the leaders of the Philippine Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf. The group holds an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse hostage.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila is asking people with information about five Abu Sayyaf leaders to call an embassy hotline. A pool of up to $5 million has been set aside as a reward for information that leads to their capture or conviction.

Embassy spokesman Frank Jenista explains the reasons for the reward. "They [Abu Sayyaf] have killed an American by cutting off his head," he said. "They now have two American missionaries they have held captive for more than one year. So because of that, the United States is joining the Philippine government. The Philippine government has similar reward for the same terrorists."

A few days ago, the Abu Sayyaf's two American captives marked their first year in captivity. Philippine troops have failed to find them, even with the help of about 1,000 American soldiers in the Philippines for an exercise aimed at eliminating the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez says the reward boosts the Philippines' campaign against the Abu Sayyaf. "The U.S. government realizes very clearly that there are difficulties with dealing with a group like the Abu Sayyaf," he said.

The Philippine government offers a $100,000 reward for the Abu Sayyaf commanders.

The Abu Sayyaf guerrillas say they are fighting for an independent Muslim state in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. The government calls them bandits. The group has abducted foreign tourists and Philippine citizens in the past few years, and has killed some of their captives.