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US Charges Philippine Rebel Leaders With Murder of Americans - 2002-07-23

The U.S. Justice Department has announced charges against five alleged leaders of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group in the Philippines, in connection with the death last month of a kidnapped American missionary.

The alleged commanders of Abu Sayyaf are charged with conspiracy and hostage-taking for crimes that have led to the deaths of Americans. The latest was Martin Burnham. He was killed last month, along with a Philippine nurse, during a rescue attempt by the Philippine military. His wife suffered an injury but was freed.

The missionary was among a group of Americans kidnapped more than a year ago by Abu Sayyaf rebels who have been fighting for a separate Islamic state. A year ago, the group claimed responsibility for beheading another kidnapped American.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson announced the indictments in Washington. "With today's indictment, the United States sends a signal: We will work to track down and prosecute all those who commit barbaric acts of terrorism against Americans, here at home and abroad," he said. "The Justice Department is committed to working with the government of the Philippines to bring the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf group to justice."

None of the alleged Abu Sayyaf leaders charged is in custody, but this indictment allows the United States to seek their extradition if they are captured. About a thousand American soldiers are in the Southern Philippines helping the Philippine military in counter-terrorism and to wipe out a rebel group that the United States considers a foreign terrorist organization with ties to Osama bin-Laden's al-Qaida network.