Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nothing Holy About Holy War

Pacific News - Catholic priest Fr. Reynaldo Roda was killed by suspected Abu Sayyaf members in the province island of Tawi-Tawi. Before this, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines had sought protection from authorities for the priest because of the death threats he was getting from the al-Qaeda-supported Abu Sayyaf group.

Local police also reported that about 10 heavily armed men stormed the compound of the small Catholic missionary school of Notre Dame High School in Tabawan town in Tawi-Tawi. They forcibly took a teacher and computers from the school but police caught up with the group as they were about to board a small speedboat typical of those used by the ASG and smugglers.

Fr. Roda was killed with an execution-style single gunshot to the head. Police said they managed to engage some of the suspected ASG members whom they described as bandits. Fr. Roda had earlier complained to local police about the theft of computers and other items from the school in recent weeks.

Tawi-Tawi police did not categorically say they engaged the ASG members who, by and large, have spared Tawi-Tawi from the more extensive conflict they wage in neighboring Jolo and Basilan provinces.

The local military commander said the attacks had the style of the group. One of Asia's most wanted men, Indonesian Jemaah Islamiah leader Dulmatin is believed to be hiding in nearby Jolo. The U.S. government has set a $10-million reward for his capture. Other senior JI and Abu Sayyaf members have reportedly been sighted in Tawi-Tawi as well.

Security analysts said the attack may have been an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf, who have suffered heavy losses in recent months in U.S.-funded counter terrorism campaigns, to make government troops spread out in their search for them.

It was not the first time that the Abu Sayyaf killed a priest. In 2002, militants also kidnapped, tortured and killed a Claretian priest Roel Gallardo in Basilan province, several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.

In 1997, the Abu Sayyaf also assassinated a Catholic bishop Benjamin de Jesus in Jolo town in Sulu province. He was shot several times outside his church in a broad daylight attack.

Three years later, the Abu Sayyaf also ambushed a Catholic missionary, Benjamin Inocencio, in Jolo town while buying gifts for poor Muslims. The Abu Sayyaf also randomly attacked and bombed Catholic churches in Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and in Mindanao the past decade.