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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Founding Member of Abu Sayyaf Group Pleads Guilty to 1995 Hostage Taking Involving U.S. and Philippine Citizens

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that Madhatta Haipe, a citizen of the Philippines and founding member of Al-Harakat Al-Islamiyyah, also known as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), pleaded guilty today in federal court in the District of Columbia to four counts of hostage taking in connection with the 1995 abduction of 16 people, including four U.S. citizens, in the Philippines. The guilty plea was announced by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and Charlene B. Thornton, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Honolulu Field Office.

According to the factual proffer in support of the guilty plea, to which Haipe agreed in court, at the time of the hostage taking, Haipe was serving as the General Secretary of the ASG, or second-in-command of the organization, under the Amir. The Amir of the ASG had directed that members of the group engage in kidnappings for ransom in order to raise funds for the group and to raise the public’s awareness of the group’s purpose. The ASG was subsequently designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Secretary of State, and remains so designated today.

As admitted by Haipe as part of his guilty plea, on Dec. 27, 1995, several armed members of the ASG kidnapped 16 individuals, including four U.S. citizens, one U.S. permanent resident alien, and 11 Philippine citizens, in the rugged area around Trankini Falls, near Lake Sebu, in southern Mindanao, in the Philippines. The hostages, including six children, were forced to march up a mountainside. Some of the adult hostages had rope tied around their hands or neck.

Haipe informed the hostages that they were being kidnapped for ransom, and he individually questioned some of the hostages to determine the amount of ransom to be demanded. Later that same day, Haipe decided to release four of the 16 hostages to allow them to collect a ransom totaling at least one million Filipino pesos (equivalent to about $38,000 U.S. dollars, at the time). Haipe threatened that if the released hostages told anyone about the kidnapping, then hostages would be killed.

After releasing the four hostages, Haipe and his group forced the remaining hostages to continue marching up the mountainside to evade capture by the Philippine authorities. Four days later, on December 31, 1995, Haipe and his group released the remaining hostages after a ransom was paid.

"For roughly 15 years, FBI agents, Justice Department prosecutors and authorities in the Philippines relentlessly pursued this matter on behalf of the victims, who were held hostage and threatened with death by this Abu Sayyaf leader. With today’s guilty plea, Mr. Haipe is finally being held accountable for his actions," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

"Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message -- we will never tire in our pursuit of justice for those who seek to harm American citizens, whether at home or abroad," said Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.  "Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that there will be serious consequences for those who commit such crimes."

"The FBI Honolulu Division has investigated this matter in close coordination with the Philippine authorities for approximately 15 years," said Charlene Thornton, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Honolulu. "Through this international cooperation, despite the time and distance, we have managed to bring to justice a defendant who had sought to harm our U.S. citizens abroad."

Haipe, who is now 48 years old, was indicted for this crime by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. in November 2000. In August 2009, he was extradited from the Philippines to face the charges against him. He is now scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Richard Roberts on Dec. 14, 2010. He faces up to life in prison on each of the four counts to which he pleaded guilty. As part of the plea agreement, the government may advocate for a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

The Department of Justice and the FBI, working with their partners in the Philippines, have vigorously pursued this case for years. The investigation was conducted by FBI Honolulu Field Office, with substantial assistance from the Philippines Department of Justice, the Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and, in particular, Robert Courtney, the U.S. Justice Department’s Attaché to the Philippines, also provided substantial assistance in this case.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregg Maisel and Anthony Asuncion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, as well as Trial Attorney T. J. Reardon, III, of the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

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