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2 Americans abducted in southern Philippines

2 Americans abducted in southern Philippines

More than a dozen armed men abducted three people before dawn Tuesday, including a 50-year-old naturalized American woman and her 14-year-old son, from a southern Philippine island near a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked militants, officials said.
Suspicion fell on the notorious terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for ransom kidnappings, beheadings and bombings in the last two decades, or a Muslim rebel commander whose group has been linked to previous abductions.
The 400-plus Abu Sayyaf militants, who are fighting for an Islamist state in the predominantly Christian nation, are holding three other kidnap victims, including a child, as part of desparate efforts to raise funds, according to the Philippine army.
The assailants seized Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann, her 14-year-old son and 19-year-old Filipino nephew from a house in Zamboanga city's Tictabon island village, then fled with their captives in two motorized boats, said police Senior Superintendent Edwin de Ocampo.
There has been no contact or ransom demand from the abductors, and their identities remain unconfirmed, de Ocampo said.
The abduction took place near Basilan Island, the birthplace and stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militants, about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila.
The largest Muslim separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, also has a presence in the area but they have been negotiating with the government amid a cease-fire that has been largely holding in the restive southern Philippines for several years.
However, the military said a separatist Moro commander identified as Waning Abdulsalam may have been responsible. Rebel spokesman Von Al Haq said his group would investigate but that it has no such report and will not tolerate criminal activities.
Police earlier said the woman was a Filipino married to a German national and that the family lives in the U.S. state of Virginia.
But army Col. Buenaventura Pascual, commander of an anti-terrorist task force in Zamboanga, said his men on Tictabon Island saw the U.S. passports of Lunsmann and her son, showing they were American citizens.
Lunsman was originally from Basilan and her previous name was Jerpa Usman, police and military officials said.
Pascual said the woman's husband is apparently an American citizen of German ancestry. He did not accompany his wife and son, who arrived in the Philippines two weeks ago to visit relatives.
Calls and text messages to the U.S. Embassy were unanswered Tuesday.
"We have deployed troops to track down the victims," Pascual said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the local crisis committee was convened and that police and the military were trying to rescue the victims and capture the culprits.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said intelligence reports showed the victims may have been brought to Basilan's Tuburuan township.