Filipino insurgent gets 23 years for '95 hostage-taking

US court convicts former second-in-command of Philippines Islamist group Abu-Sayyaf for holding 4 US citizens for ransom in 1995.

December 18, 2010 04:30
2 minute read.
Members of Abu Sayyaf hiding out in the jungle

311_abu Sayyaf in jungle. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON— Fifteen years after leading a kidnapping that turned a family vacation into a hostage crisis, the former second-in-command of the Filipino militant group Abu Sayyaf was sentenced Friday to 23 years in an American prison.

Madhatta Haipe led about 40 members of Abu Sayyaf in abducting 16 vacationers at a mountain tourist resort in the southern Philippines during Christmas week 1995. The hostages included six children and two pregnant women and were released after five days when ransom was paid.

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Haipe was prosecuted in the United States because four hostages were American citizens and a fifth was a permanent resident alien. Those five victims and others who flew in from as far away as the Philippines appeared in court during a five-hour hearing and tearfully described how they still are traumatized and suffer psychological problems.

Bien-Elize Roque, who was 11 when she was kidnapped along with her parents, said the experience stole her childhood and left her with nightmares of men in camouflage and an obsession with locking doors and windows. "You had no right to force me to grow up," she told Haipe.

Haipe, 48, evaded capture for more than a decade, mostly living in Malaysia as the owner of a string of small businesses and father after he said he left Abu Sayyaf in 1997. But prosecutor Gregg Maisel said, "The United States never forgot."

After they were abducted from their holiday mountain resort, all the hostages were forced to march up the mountain, some still wearing bathing suits without shoes, and were shown a large semicircular knife that would be used to behead them if they did not comply. The defendant, who went by "Commander Haipe," then questioned the hostages individually about their background and set a $38,000 ransom for one American family and $19,000 ransom for the release of the rest.

He then sent three women and a male driver to collect the money, rejecting their pleas to release the children. He threatened to kill their families if they did not comply or went to police.

At his trial, Haipe said he never agreed with Abu Sayyaf's  practice of kidnapping because he found it "morally wrong and tactically counterproductive" and that he eventually left the group over their violent tactics.

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