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Philippine President Vows to Crush Abu Sayyaf


Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is vowing to crush the Abu Sayyaf, the Muslim rebel group that kidnapped the two hostages that died and the one injured in a rescue operation Friday by the Philippines military. American Martin Burnham and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap were killed, while Mr. Burnham's wife Gracia was wounded by gunfire. The government also warns residents of the southern Philippines to be on the look out for possibly desperate Abu Sayyaf members.

President Arroyo ordered the military on Saturday to "search and destroy" the Abu Sayyaf, as Philippine troops intensified their offensive in the southern Philippines.

Silvestre Afable is a presidential spokesman. He says the military can be more aggressive now that the Abu Sayyaf no longer hold hostages. "She has given orders to continue this operation… We have 600 troops in the area and she wants them to double their efforts to get all the Abu Sayyaf elements who are there," he says.

There are concerns that desperate Abu Sayyaf members might try to take more hostages. The gang, which claims to be fighting for a Muslim state in the southern Philippines, has become infamous in recent years for taking hostages for ransom and other criminal activities.

"The president has called for the entire population to be very vigilant at this time…. You know what the Abu Sayyaf is capable of doing in desperation," says Mr. Afable. "The population, especially in Mindinao, are in the highest state of alert."

During the rescue operation Friday, Gracia Burnham was shot in the leg. Her husband Martin was killed, along with Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap. Officials have yet to clarify whether the hostages were shot by the Abu Sayyaf or caught in the crossfire.

President Arroyo will visit Basilan and meet with Ms. Yap's family. She is survived by her four children.

The body of Mr. Burnham was taken to a U.S. air base in Japan, while Mrs. Burnham is hospitalized.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have been in the south since February to train with Philippine soldiers in combating terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf. The U.S. soldiers are barred from combat zones.

U.S. officials say American troops helped plan the rescue mission but did not participate in the actual offensive. They provided surveillance equipment to help locate the rebels and U.S. medics evacuated casualties after the clash, which left four rebels dead and seven soldiers wounded.

The Burnhams were the last of 20 hostages kidnapped last May 27 from an island resort. Ms. Yap was captured a few days later. Some hostages escaped or were freed after paying ransom. The Abu Sayyaf killed several.

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