'Justice served' as ASG founder pleads guilty of taking four Americans hostages in Lake Sebu — US ambassador

July 30, 2010 12:05 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, July 29 — The Filipino operative whose 1995 hostage-taking of four US citizens and 12 others caused the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to be listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) by the United States and the European Union, has pleaded guilty before a US Federal Court.

Madhatta Haipe, now 48 years old, then Secretary-General of the dreaded ASG, pleaded guilty on July 28 (Washington time) to four counts of hostage-taking which occurred in Lake Sebu in southern Mindanao in December 1995.

Haipe is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Richard Roberts on December 14 this year, according to information received from the US embassy in Manila.

He faces up to life in prison on each of the four counts to which he pleaded guilty. As part of the plea agreement, the US government may advocate for a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, the embassy added.

US Assistant Attorney General David Kris announced this development today, saying that “with today’s guilty plea, Mr. Haipe is finally being held accountable for his actions.”

In Manila, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. commended US and Philippine authorities “whose close and relentless collaboration brought about Haipe’s extradition and admission of guilt.”

“I am pleased to see justice served,” said Thomas. “Our cooperation with the Philippines is essential in our common mission of defeating terrorist organizations that harm citizens of both our countries,” he added.

The ASG founding member was extradited to the US in August 2009 to face the charges against him. A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted him for the crime in November 2000.

According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), there was “substantial assistance from the Philippine Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.”

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and, in particular, Robert Courtney, the US Justice Department’s Attaché to the Philippines, also provided substantial assistance in this case, the DOJ said.

It took 15 years until Haipe finally pleaded guilty to the crimes which happened in Lake Sebu, where the group of Filipino-Americans was on a picnic when the terrorist group attacked.

“The FBI Honolulu Division has investigated this matter in close coordination with the Philippine authorities for approximately 15 years,” said Charlene Thornton, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Honolulu.

“Through this international cooperation, despite the time and distance, we have managed to bring to justice a defendant who had sought to harm our U. citizens abroad.”

Court record of the guilty plea — to which Haipe reportedly agreed — indicated that at the time of the hostage taking, the ASG operative was serving as the General Secretary of the ASG, or its second-in-command, under the Amir (chief).

”The Amir of the ASG had directed that members of the group engage in kidnappings for ransom in order to raise funds for the group and to raise the public’s awareness of the group’s purpose,” according to the embassy’s report.

The records further said that as admitted by Haipe as part of his guilty plea, several ASG cohorts on Dec. 27, 1995 kidnapped 16 individuals, including four US citizens, one US permanent resident alien, and 11 Philippine citizens, in the rugged area around Trankini Falls.

The hostages included six children and were forced to march up a mountainside. Some of the adult hostages had rope tied around their hands or neck.

Haipe informed the hostages that they were being kidnapped for ransom, and he individually questioned some of the hostages to determine the amount of ransom to be demanded.

Later that same day, Haipe decided to release four of the 16 hostages to allow them to collect a ransom totaling at least P1-million (equivalent to about US$ 38,000, at the time).

Haipe threatened that if the released hostages told anyone about the kidnapping, the hostages still in their custody would be killed.

After releasing four, Haipe and his group forced the remaining hostages to continue marching up the mountainside to evade capture by the Philippine authorities.

The rest of the hostages were released four days later, on Dec. 31, 1995, after a ransom was paid.

“Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message — we will never tire in our pursuit of justice for those who seek to harm American citizens, whether at home or abroad,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that there will be serious consequences for those who commit such crimes.”

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant US Attorneys Gregg Maisel and Anthony Asuncion of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, as well as Trial Attorney T. J. Reardon, III, of the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. (PNA)

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