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4 Dead in Philippine Hostage Stand-off - 2003-10-07


In the Philippines, three policeman and one Muslim guerilla are dead after a hostage stand-off at the National Police headquarters. The guerrilla, a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group and a prisoner at the police station, was apparently attempting to escape.

Police say the prisoner grabbed an M-16 assault rifle from a guard while he was being escorted to an exercise yard at the Philippine National Police headquarters in the capital Manila. The prisoner then shot and killed the guard, and two others who tried to stop him.

The prisoner then held two other policemen hostage for three hours early Tuesday before a SWAT team stormed the office where he was holed up, killng him. The two hostages and another police officer were wounded during the rescue.

"We would like to assure our listeners that the Philippines National Police is on top of the situation," says National Police spokesman, Colonel Leopold Bataoil. "We have terminated the operation. We have handled the situation properly - but we have lost some personnel. We have attended to their needs, especially to brief the families."

The prisoner has been identified as Buyungan Bungkak, an alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group - which the Philippines and United States has branded a terrorist organization.

Based in the south of the country, the Abu Sayyaf was founded in the late 1980's to fight for independence for the Philippines' Muslim minority. Analysts say the group has now degenerated to little more than armed bandits - but they are still capable of creating political turmoil.

Mr. Bungkak was arrested for his alleged involvement in the October 2002 bombing of a shopping mall in the southern city of Zamboanga.

Tuesday's incident is likely to embarrass the Philippines police, whose reputation is already tarnished. In July, suspected terrorist leader Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi escaped from the National Police Headquarters, and has yet to be recaptured. Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian, is believed to be a regional chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian affiliate of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

JI, as the group is known, is suspected in a series of bombings throughout the Philippines and Indonesia as part of its plan to create an Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

President Bush on Monday signed a memorandum designating the Philippines as a major "non-NATO" ally of the United States. The Philippines is now eligible to receive increased U.S. assistance for military hardware and cooperation on security measures.

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