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Suspected Qaeda men abduct 7 in Philippines

Suspected Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants abducted seven men on southern Jolo island.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2007 17:00 IST

Suspected Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants abducted seven men on southern Jolo island, including six workers for a government road project, Philippine officials said on Tuesday.

Police were trying to track down the victims and their abductors. Six road project workers were heading to Jolo's Indanan town from Parang when Abu Sayyaf gunmen blocked their truck and seized them at gunpoint, police chief superintendent Joel Goltiao said.

A dried-fish factory worker was abducted separately by the gunmen while traveling in a passenger jeep in Parang, also on Monday, he said.

Jolo Gov Ben Loong, citing a police investigation, said the kidnappings were believed to have been staged by Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, who operates in Jolo's mountainous townships of Indanan and Parang.

Some village leaders were helping to locate the kidnap victims, he said. He declined to say whether he would be willing to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf or whether a ransom had been demanded.

The kidnappings were an indication that the Abu Sayyaf remains capable of banditry and terrorist acts despite battle setbacks dealt by a large US-backed offensive that started in August, he said.

Loong said it was unclear whether the kidnappings were intended to divert troops who are hunting for Muslim rebel commander Habier Malik and his men from the Moro National Liberation Front.

Malik was blamed for deadly mortar attacks in Jolo last week. Military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said Malik has provided sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf rebels and Indonesian militants who have been targeted by the US-backed offensive, which resulted in the killing of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani last year and his presumed successor, Abu Sulaiman, in January.

An estimated 300 to 400 Abu Sayyaf gunmen remain at large on Jolo, about 950 kilometres south of Manila.

Washington has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group and has offered large rewards for the capture of its top commanders.