Statement* of Deputy Attorney General
LARRY D. THOMPSON
Announcing Return of Indictment
Against 5 Leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group
July 23, 2002
Good afternoon. I am pleased to be joined by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Roscoe Howard.
Today, we are announcing the indictment of five leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group in connection with their deadly and barbaric hostage-taking activities against Americans and others in the Philippines. The five-count indictment returned today mirrors a previous indictment that was returned, under seal by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia in February 2002. The indictment charges the five named defendants with Conspiracy Resulting in Death, Hostage Taking and three counts of Hostage Taking Resulting in Death.
The previous indictment was filed under seal at the time it was returned because we were concerned that publicity about the indictment might further endanger the lives of the hostages Abu Sayyaf was holding in the Philippines. Tragically, American missionary Martin Burnham and a Filipino nurse, Ediborah Yap died during a firefight on June 7, 2002, when Philippine military forces encountered the Abu Sayyaf Group holding the American missionaries. Fortunately, Gracia Burnham, who was shot in the leg during the encounter, was rescued.
Today's indictment updates the previous indictment by adding Martin Burnham and Ediborah Yap to the list of people whose death resulted from these criminal acts.
With today's indictment, the United States sends a signal: We will work to track down and prosecute all those who would commit barbaric acts of terrorism against Americans, here at home and abroad. The Justice Department is committed to working with the government of the Philippines to bring the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group to justice.
The conspiracy charged in the indictment dates back to August 2000, when the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnaped Jeffrey Schilling, an American who was then living in the southern Philippines. Mr. Schilling was held hostage for more than seven months. During Mr. Schilling's captivity, some of the demands made by the Abu Sayyaf Group, as alleged in the indictment, were the release of certain convicted prisoners in the United States and the payment of $10 million in ransom. The indictment describes how the Abu Sayyaf Group repeatedly made known its threats to kill Mr. Schilling if their demands were not met. Mr. Schilling eventually managed to escape from captivity on April 12, 2001, after more than seven months as a hostage.
Today's indictment alleges:
- On May 27, 2001, about six weeks after Mr. Schilling's escape, the Abu Sayyaf Group kidnaped 20 individuals, including three U.S. citizens - Martin Burnham, Gracia Burnham and Guillermo Sobero - from the Dos Palmas Island Resort, a dive resort located on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
- The Abu Sayyaf Group again threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met.
- On June 11, 2001, the Abu Sayyaf Group brutally beheaded American hostage Guillermo Sobero. The next day, one of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group allegedly called into a Philippine radio station to take credit on behalf of the group for the barbaric killing of Mr. Sobero.
Since 1997, the Abu Sayyaf Group has been designated by the State Department as a "foreign terrorist organization." The group's written charter allegedly states, among other things, that the purpose of the group is either to establish an Islamic government in the southern Philippines or to "reach Martyrdom in Allah's way."
The five leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group or ASG who are named in the indictment are:
(1) KHADAFI ABUBAKAR JANJALANI, also known as ABU MUKTAR, who serves as an Amir, or spiritual leader, of the ASG;
(2) ISNILON TOTONI HAPILON, also known as ABU MUSAB, also known as "the Deputy," who serves as the deputy, or second-in-command, to the Amir of the ASG;
(3) ALDAM TILAO, also known as ABU SABAYA, also known as ABU CATADA, also known as ABU AHMAD SALAYUDDIN, who serves as a spokesperson for the ASG;
(4) JAINAL ANTEL SALI, JR., also known as ABU SOLAIMAN, also known as "the Engineer," who serves as a commander for the ASG, as well as an intelligence officer and occasionally as a spokesperson; and
(5) HAMSIRAJI MARUSI SALI, also known as JOSE RAMIREZ, also known as TIBERKIS, who serves as a commander and group leader for the ASG.
I would like to thank U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard and his office, Van Harp, the FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the Washington Field Office, and the Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section of the Criminal Division here at the Department of Justice for all their hard work in this case.
I would also like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks and appreciation to the Government of the Philippines for its unflinching cooperation in this effort to bring the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group to justice. President Arroyo, a staunch ally in the global war on terrorism, has expressed an unwavering determination to bring to justice or destroy the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. The Philippine Government's assistance in this and other matters has been invaluable.
I'll conclude by saying that the criminal investigation of this matter is continuing and, when that investigation is concluded, we may file additional charges. Meanwhile, efforts continue in the Philippines to apprehend the indicted leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group. These efforts include a reward of up to $5 million offered by the United States Government, under the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" program, for information leading to the arrest and conviction of each of these five terrorists. We look forward to working cooperatively with the Government of the Philippines to bring these terrorists to justice.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.