Philippine mayor arrested after helping free kidnapped TV crew

June 19th, 2008 - 11:07 am ICT by IANS  

Manila, June 19 (DPA) A town mayor and his son who helped negotiate for the release of three television journalists and a Muslim professor in the southern Philippines have been arrested for allegedly being involved in the kidnapping, officials said Thursday. Police were preparing to file criminal charges against Alvarez Isnaji, mayor of Indanan town on Jolo island, 1,000 km south of Manila, and his son Haider, who served as his emissary in the negotiations with Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants.

“The charges can range from conspiracy to being principals in the kidnapping,” Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said. “Maybe they really did help in securing the release of the hostages, but that will have to be determined by investigation.”

The hostages - Ces Drilon, senior correspondent of ABS-CBN, the largest radio and television network in the country; cameramen Jimmy Encarnancion and Angelo Valderama; and Muslim professor Octavio Dinampo - were abducted June 8.

Valderama was freed June 12, while Drilon, Encarnacion and Dinampo were released June 17.

Drilon said they were tied and threatened with beheading several times during their captivity.

Isnaji and his son were brought to the Manila police headquarters Wednesday for a debriefing to help in the investigation on the kidnapping.

But they were placed under arrest Wednesday evening after inconsistencies in their statements, according to Chief Superintendent Raul Castaneda, director of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

“Based on the evaluation of our investigators, there are so many inconsistencies on the debriefing made on the mayor and his son,” Castaneda said. “We have officers who debunked their statements. These officers were at the area during the crisis.”

The kidnappers had demanded 15 million pesos (about $340,900) for the release of the hostages. Authorities have denied ransom was paid to the rebels, but sources said money changed hands.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines, is also notorious for its kidnapping-for-ransom activities. They have beheaded some hostages in the past when their demands were not met.

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