Fourteen years after a mass kidnapping of four Americans and other vacationers at a Philippine resort, an alleged Muslim militant accused of leading the hostage-taking has been brought to the United States to face criminal charges.
Madhatta Haipe, a Philippine citizen who prosecutors say is a member of the violent al-Qaida-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf, was extradited Thursday after being held in his home country for at least three months.
Haipe made an initial appearance Friday in federal court in Washington. U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay ordered him held without bond pending trial.
Court documents say Haipe evaded capture until earlier this year, although he was indicted in November 2000. David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said U.S. and Philippine authorities "never stopped pursuing this matter on behalf of the victims."
"With this extradition, we hope to finally bring justice for the U.S. and Philippine victims who were held hostage and repeatedly threatened with death during this crime," Kris said in a statement.
Haipe's indictment accuses him of leading a group of heavily armed kidnappers who took 16 people from the remote mountainous Traan-Kine Spring Resort at Lake Sebu, 640 miles southeast of Manila, on Dec. 27, 2005. The group entered the resort around noon, yelling at the vacationers to "hit the ground," striking some with the butt of their rifles and tying rope around their hands and necks to prevent escape, the indictment says.
Most of the hostages were held for five days. The group included four Americans, identified in press reports at the time as Californians who had been visiting Filipino relatives for the holidays.
The press accounts said the Americans included 10-year-old Noe Roque, who was taken along with her parents Helen and Nelson Roque. Helen Roque was also an American citizen, but her husband was not. The two other Americans were Helen Roque's sister Elenita Dayao and a woman named Gloria San Gabriel, who reportedly was visiting her husband and two children in the Philippines at the time.
Within a few hours of the kidnapping, the gunmen took their hostages' valuables and threatened to kill anyone who tried to escape, the indictment says. The indictment says Haipe questioned the victims about their citizenship, occupations and financial resources to determine ransom, then demanded $38,000 for the release of Nelson Roque and his daughter.
Helen Roque and Elenita Dayao were released along with two Filipinos with instructions to collect the money by the following day, the indictment says. Prosecutors said they were told that any military intervention would result in the death of the remaining hostages, who were forced to march through the mountainous jungle to a hostage camp protected by armed guards.
Prosecutors say the remaining hostages were released on Dec. 31, 1995, after the kidnappers collected a total of $57,000 in ransom.
A week later, Philippine army officers reported that troops with helicopter gunships attacked the suspected kidnappers, killing seven and capturing three. They said Haipe was wounded but was taken away by his men.
The indictment says Haipe is known as Commander Haipe and is a former professor of Islamic studies at Mindanao State University in the Philippines. He appeared in court in a blue jail jumpsuit and held up his right hand with a missing ring finger when he was sworn in. He said he had no money to hire a lawyer, so Kay appointed a public defender to represent him.
A U.S. official said Haipe is a member of Abu Sayyaf, which has been part of a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the southern Philippines. The official spoke on a condition of anonymity discussing details of the case not included in the public record.
The Abu Sayyaf is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations because its bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings of hostages made it into the Philippines' most brutal rebel group. It is suspected of having received funds and training from al-Qaida.
Abu Sayyaf, which means "Father of the Swordsman" in Arabic, was founded in 1991 with support from Asian and Middle Eastern radical groups. It gained notoriety in 2001 when gunmen kidnapped 20 people, including three Americans, from a Philippine resort. One American was beheaded and another killed in a military rescue.
Since 2002, hundreds of U.S. troops have been training Filipino soldiers and providing them with intelligence. They are also securing development projects like schools and medical clinics in an effort to persuade the local Muslim population in the country's poorest provinces to turn their backs on the militants.