(UPDATE) College professor is latest Basilan abduction victim
MANILA, Philippines - A professor of a state college is the latest abduction victim in Basilan province, police confirmed Thursday.
Superintendent Albert Larubis, Isabela City police chief, said Professor Rolando Fajardo of Basilan State College was forcibly taken by armed men from his house in the city past 7 p.m. Thursday. The professor’s house is reportedly near the state college.
Fajardo is also vice president of the state educational institution.
Senior Superintendent Abubakar Tulawie, Basilan police director, said police immediately pursued the abductors who reportedly rode a dark colored multi-cab. The armed men purportedly went in the direction of Barangay Sumagdang taking along the professor.
There was reportedly several minutes of gunfire between the pursuing police and the abductors but authorities failed to catch the unidentified armed men.
Tulawie said Fajardo was not injured in the exchange of gunfire.
Police said they believe the abductors fled onboard a pumpboat taking the college professor with them.
Police said they are continuing their pursuit operation and are also using pumpboats to search for the gunmen and their abduction victim.
The reported latest abduction came after security forces are scouring Basilan for two Chinese nationals who are allegedly being held by Abu Sayyaf Group, after the severed head of one kidnap victim was dumped in a park.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits, however, have so far eluded the dragnet, Tulawie said earlier.
"We have been on their trail, but whenever we arrive at the site where they are last reported, they are already gone," Tulawie told reporters.
Heavily armed gunmen from the Abu Sayyaf, listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, kidnapped three workers from Hitech Wood Craft Corp. in Basilan's Maluso town on November 10.
The Abu Sayyaf, which specializes in kidnappings for ransom, had demanded P1.5 million (32,500 dollars) for the release of the trio, Tulawie said.
On Wednesday, the severed head of one of the hostages, Mark Singson, aged in his 20s, was found stuffed in a plastic bag after being dumped in a park on the island. Residents had alerted police after fearing the package was a bomb.
Tulawei said the other two hostages -- Michael Tan, 27 and Oscar Lu, 51 -- were known to be alive as of Wednesday because they had been allowed to call their employer then.
Founded in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf or "Bearers of the Sword" initially fought for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines.
It later morphed into a criminal organization specializing in bombings and kidnappings targeting businessmen and foreign missionaries.
The group is blamed for the deaths of two American hostages snatched from an island getaway in 2001, as well the nation's worst terror attack -- the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that claimed more than 100 lives.
US special forces have been rotating in small numbers in the south since 2001 to train Filipino soldiers in combating the Abu Sayyaf.
The assistance has led to the capture or deaths of many Abu Sayyaf leaders and the group's numbers are believed to have fallen to 300-400 gunmen, down from a high of about 1,000 in the 1990s.
But it remains well entrenched in the jungles of Basilan and nearby Jolo island, thanks to support from local Muslim communities and its ability to attract fresh recruits from poor young men lured by promises of money.
The Abu Sayyaf was blamed for the beheading of a school principal on Jolo last month, just days before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Manila to affirm security ties.
In September, two US soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb on Jolo in the deadliest attack on American forces so far by the militant group.
Abu Sayyaf attacks have left at least 48 Filipino soldiers and 70 insurgents dead since January, according to an AFP tally based on military reports. With reports from Noel Alamar, Radio dzMM; RJ Rosalado, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga and Agence France-Presse