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Elite troops prowl Sulu for Abu Sayyaf, news team abductors

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 16:06:00 06/20/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Elite troops, moving in small packs, are prowling the forests of Sulu, waiting to pounce on fighters of the Abu Sayyaf, including those behind the abduction of an ABS-CBN news team and their guide, the military commander in the southern island province said Friday.

“We are using special units, small units which can move at night and target selective areas. These specialized operations, I think, are more effective in running after the bandits,” Major General Juancho Sabban, chief of the Jolo-based counter-terrorism unit Task Force Comet, said.

“They are not only willing to go, they are there already,” Sabban said, adding the 20 to 50 kidnappers of the news team were in the hinterlands of Patikul town.

Sabban refused to elaborate on the composition of the elite troops, but the Army Scout Rangers and the Marine Force Reconnaissance Battalion are known to operate in Sulu.

News anchor Ces Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, and Mindanao State University professor Octavio Dinampo were freed on Tuesday evening, nine days after they were seized in Patikul.

Assistant cameraman Angelo Valderama was released earlier, on June 12, after payment of a “board and lodging fee.”

Sabban said the group was seized in Patikul, correcting earlier reports that they were abducted in Maimbung town.

Asked if contact between the pursuing troops and the bandits was imminent, Sabban declined to answer saying: “That’s an operational matter.”

Sabban said “minor” members of the Abu Sayyaf were behind the kidnapping of the news team, and the al Qaeda-linked group’s leaders were “apparently not participants.”

While troops hunt down the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands, Sabban said the situation in the capital of Jolo and other towns in the island was “normal.”

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Written by joelguinto

FriUTC2008-06-20T08:29:32+00:00UTC06bUTCFri, 20 Jun 2008 08:29:32 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am06

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