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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 10:37 GMT
Philippine rebels jailed for life
The militants hear the verdict in court in Manila
The Abu Sayyaf militants have been on trial for more than three years
A Philippine court has jailed 14 Muslim militants for life for the high-profile abduction of a group of tourists in 2001 that left five hostages dead.

The Abu Sayyaf militants took 20 tourists from a luxury beach resort and held them for a year in the jungle.

They beheaded three of the abductees, including one American. Two more died in a rescue operation a year later.

The incident prompted Washington to send troops to defeat the group, which the US says has links to al-Qaeda.

Abu Sayyaf has been behind the Philippines' worst terror attack - a ferry bombing in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

But in recent years it has lost power somewhat as several of its key leaders have been killed.

Rescue operation

Heavily-armed police officers brought the 17 suspects to the Manila courtroom for the sentencing, at the end of trial lasting more than three years.

Four suspects were acquitted, but the others were sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay damages to their victims.

"This is a victory against terrorism," state prosecutor Aris Reyes told reporters after the verdict had been announced.

But Toting Hannoh, one of the men convicted, said: "The Abu Sayyaf will grow stronger. We will be back."

The convicted militants took part in one of the Philippines' highest-profile abductions.

Twenty people were snatched at gunpoint from the Dos Palmas beach resort on the western island of Palawan in May 2001.

Map
They were then taken by boat to the southern island of Basilan and held for months in mountainous terrain.

Three of the hostages - two Filipinos and American Guillermo Sobero - were beheaded by the militants as negotiations played out.

Some of the hostages were freed or escaped and in June 2002 the army launched a rescue operation to free those remaining in captivity.

Two of the hostages died in the firefight - a Filipino nurse and US missionary Martin Burnham. His wife, Gracia, was shot in the leg.

She later described her abduction in a book, alleging local soldiers had been assisting the militants - prompting Philippine President Gloria Arroyo to order an investigation.

US abductees Martin and Gracia Burnham (file image)
Martin Burnham died in a firefight during the rescue operation
More than 80 people were originally charged in connection with the crime, 23 of whom were captured.

The trial began in 2003, but four of the suspects were killed in a prison break and one was earlier cleared of all charges.

The abduction prompted the US to begin training Filipino soldiers in counterterrorism operations - something that continues today.

US trainers are based around Jolo and Basilan in the south where remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group, as well as militants affiliated to other Islamist groups, are believed to be hiding.

There are sporadic clashes in the area and in August, battles between the Philippine military and militants on the island of Jolo left at least 50 people dead, the military said.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Members of Abu Sayyaf being led to captivity



SEE ALSO
Philippine clashes leave 50 dead
10 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Abu Sayyaf 'chooses new leader'
28 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Is this the end for Abu Sayyaf?
23 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Five killed in Manila jailbreak
14 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine army 'aided kidnappers'
08 May 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Hostages die in Philippine rescue bid
07 Jun 02 |  Asia-Pacific
US hostage confirmed dead
12 Oct 01 |  Asia-Pacific
Guide to the Philippines conflict
10 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
28 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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