Report: Religious argument prompted Philippine rebels to kidnap American

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines - Muslim rebels who took an American man hostage in the southern Philippines did so after he angered them in an argument over religious issues at their jungle camp, a newspaper reported Sunday.

''There was a scuffle, and suddenly, Schilling had become a hostage,'' free-lance reporter Arlyn de la Cruz quoted a rebel as saying in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Jeffrey Schilling of Oakland, Calif., went to the camp voluntarily, the paper reported. He was held by the Abu Sayyaf rebels inside a bamboo hut guarded by 10 to 15 men when de la Cruz visited Friday.

His hands had been tied with electrical wire since Tuesday, when he damaged the door to the hut while shouting that he needed cleaning solution for his contact lenses, it said.

The Abu Sayyaf, which says it is fighting for an independent Islamic state, is also holding six other Westerners and 12 Filipinos on Jolo Island. The group freed six hostages last week for a reported $6 million ransom, paid by Libya. It freed other hostages earlier.

Schilling is held on Jolo by another Abu Sayyaf faction, however, one responsible for kidnapping about 50 schoolchildren and teachers in March on neighboring Basilan Island.

Two of the teachers were beheaded after the United States ignored the group's demand for the release of several Arab terrorists held in U.S. jails. The faction also tortured and killed a Catholic priest.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen plans to discuss Shilling's abduction and cooperation in the fight against terrorism during a planned two-day visit to Manila starting Sept. 15, Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said Sunday.

Cohen will meet President Joseph Estrada, Mercado and top military officials during the visit, which is part of a series of worldwide goodbye trips by top officials with the outgoing government of President Clinton.

The rebels demanded $10 million for Schilling's release Thursday, then said Saturday that they would make political demands. The U.S. State Department has ruled out paying ransom.

Schilling, 24, converted to Islam several years ago and has been living in southern Zamboanga city since March with a Muslim Filipino woman, Ivi V. Osani.

Osani is the second cousin of rebel spokesman Abu Sabaya and reportedly was married to a rebel who died several years ago. She says she and Schilling married in a Muslim ceremony.

Osani, who is in protective custody in a hospital, said Sabaya invited her and Schilling to visit the camp on Jolo, near Zamboanga.

The newspaper said the rebels wanted to talk to Schilling about buying night vision goggles and weapons for them in the United States.

Schilling had planned to return to California on Sunday, reportedly to prepare for Osani to move there with him.

Schilling angered the rebels in arguments on Aug. 28 over such issues as the age at which Muslim boys should be allowed to use weapons and whether tribal distinctions should be retained after the establishment of an Islamic state in the Philippines, the paper said.

Philippine Red Cross officials are seeking clearance from the Abu Sayyaf and the military to deliver food and medicine for Schilling. U.S. officials say he is seriously ill and needs regular prescription medicine, but the nature of his condition was not clear.

Also Sunday, police rescued three quarry workers abducted last month by outlaws on a southern Philippine island, officials said.

Police are saying the abductors belong to the Abu Sayyaf, but rebel leaders say the kidnappers belong to one of many bandit groups roaming Jolo, an impoverished island about 600 miles south of Manila.

Meanwhile, three Malaysians held hostage for four months by the Abu Sayyaf at Jolo remain friends with their former kidnappers and have regular contact with them, a local newspaper reported Sunday.

Diving instructor Ken Fong and forestry officials Basilius Jim and Baln Krishnan Nair, who were released on Aug 18, said they regularly receive phone calls from their captors, the Abu Sayyaf.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment