Saturday, December 18, 2010


United States federal court Judge Richard Roberts sentenced today a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf terror group (ASG) to 23 years in jail for abducting 16 people, including 4 US citizens, in Mindanao in 1995.

Madhatta Asagal Haipe, 48, perhaps better known as Abu Aziz, was meted the prison term after a plea bargain.

He is the first member of the ASG to be convicted by an American court under its international terror statutes.

Haipe admitted leading a 40-man Abu Sayyaf band in kidnapping the vacationing Filipino-Americans and their friends and relatives in Trankini Falls in the resort town of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato on Dec. 27, 1995.

They released three of the female victims to raise the ransom a day later, and the rest of the group was released four days later after Haipe received the P1.5 million in ransom.

Haipe was arrested in Malaysia in June 2006 and extradited to the Philippines in May 2009. He was then extradited to the US in August 2009 to face a 2000 federal indictment for the abduction of US citizens.

He did not contest his extradition to America.

Haipe was reportedly one of nine “charter members” of the Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyah, also known as the Abu Sayyaf Group. He was the 2nd highest leader as the ASG Secretary General and also acted as its treasurer.

He occupied a position next only to Abdurajak Janjalani who formed the ASG after fighting with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, where he reportedly got millions of dollars from Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.

Before helping form the ASG in 1991, Haipe was a professor of Islamic Studies at the Mindanao State University.

A Philippine intelligence official who accompanied the Filipino victims here said Haipe and Janjalani met in Sulu through Radullan Sahiron, another top ASG commander.

Thirteen of his 16 victims flew in from the Bay Area in California and the Philippines and made a highly emotional plea to Judge Roberts to mete the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

“Fifteen years ago in the southern Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf’s second-in-comman threatened the lives of 16 innocent men, women and children,” said US Attorney Ronald Machen Jr.

“It was incredibly gratifying that so many of those victims were able to stand today in an American courtroom and watch the terrorist who held them hostage sent to prison for his crimes,” he declared.

The victims were shielded from the press by US Marshalls. Only the US nationals were identified by name in court; the Filipinos were identified only by initials of their names for security reasons.

They told us that they feared reprisals from the ASG. The Filipino victims live in areas where the ASG is known to operate; some of the Fil-Ams said they still go back to the Philippines regularly for missionary and aid work.

One the victims told this reporter the ASG even had the audacity to see him weeks after his release to ask for an article for a video camera the kidnappers took from one of his fellow kidnap victims.

One by one, they addressed Haipe and told him about the long-term psychological damage inflicted on them and their families.

Many of the victims underwent extensive treatment – some say they are still under medication – to overcome the trauma they suffered.

“I was afraid to look at you but I did because I was thinking of a day like today when I can testify against you,” said one victim.

Another victim, who was only 11 at the time the abduction, angrily told Haipe that she still has nightmares and the “4 days of terror will take me a lifetime to undo”.

“If I should have to live with it (the trauma) the rest of my life, then you should too,” another victim told Haipe.

Haipe responded to each victim with a nod.

Before Judge Roberts gave his sentence, Haipe was allowed to speak on his behalf.

He apologized to the victims and said the ASG’s kidnapping campaign was “morally wrong and tactically counter-productive”.

Haipe told the court he left the ASG in 1997 and tried to start a new life in Malaysia.

He pointed out that he’s been in one jail or another in Malaysia, the Philippines and the US for over three years and asked that that be counted in any prison term he may get.

The prosecution was handled by Asst. US Attorneys Gregg Maisel and Anthony Asuncion who happened to be also a Fil-Am.

Maisel told the court the conviction sent a clear message that the US will pursue anyone or any group that abducts its citizens wherever it may happen and no matter how long it takes.

In addition to his 23-year prison term, Judge Roberts ordered Haipe to spend 5 more years of supervised release and will be deported back to the Philippines.

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