A Muslim extremist group that snatched 20 people, including three Americans, from an island resort in the Philippines threatened today to kill all the hostages if the military moves attempt to rescue them.
The threat from the Abu Sayyaf militants came after the president vowed to crush the group.
The Philippine military said today it was preparing troops to take action swiftly once it locates the kidnappers, who disappeared in boats speeding across the Sulu Sea after seizing the Americans and 17 Filipinos.
‘‘If we encounter the military and find out they are operating against us, we will kill all the hostages,’’ Abu Sabaya, a rebel leader, said in a statement by satellite phone to the Radio Mindanao Network (RMN).
‘‘We are ready to die fighting. This is suicide,’’ Abu Sabaya said. ‘‘The government knows what to do. The government knows our capability.’’
Abu Sayyaf plagued the government with a series of kidnapping standoffs that endured for months last year including the abduction of tourists from a Malaysian resort. It has killed hostages in the past, including two teachers last year after the government declared war on the group. During the past kidnappings, the rebels often used privately owned RMN, based in Zamboanga city, to pass messages.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said today she would crush the Abu Sayyaf.
‘‘To Abu Sayyaf, it’s good for you to release all your hostages because if not, bullets will rain on you,’’ Arroyo said. ‘‘To the family of hostages seized by rebels we’re doing everything we can to save your relatives.’’
‘‘When there is a war, you know what the priorities are, and there is a war in that part of the Philippines,’’ Arroyo said.
She declared a news blackout on details of military operations and urged journalists not to try to cover the government’s rescue efforts.
So far, the military has been unable to track down the kidnappers. Gunmen snatched the hostages on Sunday morning from the Dos Palmas resort off Palawan Island in the southwestern Philippines.
Abu Sayyaf has battled government troops over the past nine months, particularly on Jolo Island in Sulu province, where it held most of the scores of hostages it took last year. Among them was Californian, Jeffrey Schilling, who was freed in an army raid in April.
The military has requested additional troops from the Philippines’ main Luzon Island, who are standing by to be flown in quickly if the group is found.
Arroyo said she had a no-ransom policy and offered £1.5 million in rewards: £65,000 for each Abu Sayyaf leader and £13,000 dollars for each member of the group involved in the kidnappings.
The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a separate Muslim state in the south of the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. But the government calls it a gang of outlaws thriving on kidnapping and piracy.