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3 Red Cross workers abducted in south Philippines

 In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Swiss national Andreas Notter is seen. ...
 In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Filipino national Mary Jean Lacaba is s...
 In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Italian national Eugenio Vagni is seen....

Philippines Kidnapping

In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Swiss national Andreas Notter is seen. ...

Philippines Kidnapping

In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Filipino national Mary Jean Lacaba is s...

Philippines Kidnapping

In this undated handout photo released by the International Committee of the Red Cross, kidnapped ICRC worker Italian national Eugenio Vagni is seen....

Gunmen abducted three Red Cross workers Thursday in a southern Muslim militant stronghold, prompting a search operation by U.S.-backed Filipino troops through dense jungles in the country's worst foreign hostage crisis in nearly eight years.
The three representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross from Italy, Switzerland and the Philippines were driving to Jolo airport after visiting a jail when motorcycle-riding gunmen intercepted them, said Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross.
The driver and two other Filipinos were released and reported the incident, he told The Associated Press.
Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, head of Jolo's anti-terrorism task force, said their vehicle was found abandoned near Patikul town, the scene of many clashes between troops and Abu Sayyaf militants hiding in thick jungles.
The gunmen took the hostages into mountainous Patikul's rain forest and headed toward nearby Indanan township, possibly to turn the hostages over to notorious Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, Sabban told The AP by telephone from Jolo.
Abu Sayyaf militants are notorious for beheading their hostages and are on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations with links to al-Qaida.
American counterterrorism troops were providing noncombat "assistance and advice" to Philippine forces, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Jolo Gov. Sakur Tan said three to five gunmen were involved "but of course they have other companions." Some villagers saw the hostages being tied up and were cooperating with authorities, he said.
Roland Bigler, a Red Cross spokesman in Manila, said the abduction took place several hundred yards (meters) from the prison gate.
The aid workers arrived on Jolo island on Wednesday to inspect water sanitation projects at the prison, officials said.
The kidnapped workers were identified as Swiss Andreas Notter, 38; Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62; and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, 37.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said Vagni comes from Montevarchi, near the Tuscan city of Arezzo. The ministry said it has been in contact with the Italian Embassy in Manila and the Red Cross.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said it was very concerned about the well-being of the aid workers. It said it was in continuous contact with the Red Cross and the Swiss Embassy in Manila and was doing everything possible to secure the hostages' immediate and unconditional release, spokesman Andreas Stauffer told the AP.
It was the most high-profile kidnapping of foreigners since 2001, when Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched nearly two dozen tourists from a resort, including three Americans. One was beheaded and another was killed during a military rescue operation. The incident prompted Washington to deploy troops in the south starting in 2002, but they are barred from combat.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf seized about 20 foreign tourists from Malaysia's Sipadan resort and held them on Jolo for several months before they were released in exchange for millions of dollars, reportedly paid by Libya.
Security officials have said the militants are resorting to ransom kidnappings because they are running out of funds. The number of kidnappings in the south involving Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim rebels jumped from 11 in 2007 to 27 last year, said Leonardo Espina, chief of a police anti-kidnapping task force.
More than 380 Abu Sayyaf fighters _ down from 1,000 from 2001-02 _ are hiding mainly in the hinterlands of predominantly Muslim Jolo and Basilan islands, according to police and the military.
The restive region is home to a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion.
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Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-12 08:12 GMT+08:00