US Embassy warns of possible kidnappings


MANILA, Philippines – The U.S. Embassy warned its citizens Tuesday that “extremist elements” planned to kidnap Americans and other foreigners in a southern Philippine city where U.S. counterterrorism troops have been deployed.

“Extremist elements may be planning to kidnap Americans or other foreigners at hotels or other public places in the Zamboanga city area,” it said in an e-mail.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said she was unaware of specific details of the threat.

A Philippine security official said authorities received intelligence last month that the Abu Sayyaf — a small but violent al-Qaida-linked group — planned to kidnap wealthy Filipino Chinese traders, not Americans, in the south to raise money for operations.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Zamboanga Mayor Celso Lobregat said police told him there was no kidnapping plot specifically directed at Americans in Zamboanga, about 530 miles south of Manila.

“This is really very disappointing,” Lobregat told The Associated Press by telephone. “Zamboanga is a very peaceful city.”

U.S. counterterrorism troops have been based in recent years in Zamboanga and on nearby Jolo island, where they provide training to Filipino troops battling the Abu Sayyaf and Indonesian militants.

Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have been blamed for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings, but their attacks have considerably eased in recent years.

U.S.-backed offensives against the militants, arrests and surrenders have reduced the Abu Sayyaf’s strength to about 300 armed fighters from more than 1,000 in 2000, according to the military.