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Philippines' Abu Sayyaf threaten 3 hostages, worry entire country

MANILA — The pixelated video shows three individuals sitting on the ground surrounded by men in camouflage uniforms, with bandoliers of M203 grenades slung across the chests of many of them. Most of the men had ski masks on.

The three individuals in the video taken last week in a jungle hideout are Mary Jean Lacaba, a Filipino, Eugenio Vagni, an Italian, and Andreas Notter, Swiss. They are workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross who were abducted by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on January 15 in Sulu province, in the southern Philippines.

The three hostages had unmistakably worried looks on their faces. And as the men shouted "Allahu akhbar! Allahu akhbar!" in unison, thrusting their rifles into the air, the three looked straight into the camera, as if pleading for mercy.

On Tuesday, the same pathos was repeated, albeit less jarringly. Filipinos were glued to their television sets as a senator, Richard Gordon, who also heads the Philippine National Red Cross, openly wept and pleaded to the Abu Sayyaf to release the hostages. "There's no glory in what you are doing," Gordon said, looking right into the cameras during a press conference.

Only a few minutes after Gordon's plea, the deadline set by the Abu Sayyaf (2 pm Manila time, or 0600 GMT) demanding a full military pullout from Sulu province would lapse and there had been no word, three hours later, whether the terrorists had made good on their threat to kill by beheading one of the Red Cross Workers.

It was good news, of course. But the Abu Sayyaf, if anything, managed to impress upon Filipinos that they are still a force to be reckoned with and that, regardless of the much-vaunted Washington-supported campaign to eliminate them, they will be with us for a long, long while. Once more, the Abu Sayyaf, which is on the U.S. terror list and which is responsible for the most horrific terror attacks in the Philippines, look so potent and this country feels like a hostage.