Hostage preachers on Jolo safe, says ministry

Time of article published Jul 6, 2000

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Jolo, Philippines - Death threats against 13 Christian preachers by their Muslim extremist captors were not a concern as the evangelists were confident God would protect them, said a member of the ministry on Thursday.

The kidnapped head of the Jesus Miracle Crusade, fiery televangelist Wilde Almeda, particularly, had special powers that would protect him from bullets, said Robert Chua, a member of the group.

Almeda and the 12 other members of his ministry went to the camp of Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf on southern Jolo Island on Saturday to pray over 20 mainly-foreign hostages seized by the rebels from a Malaysian resort on April 23 and to convince the kidnappers to free their captives.

The military says the preachers, together with German journalist Andreas Lorenz, are also now being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf.

Chua, speaking in Jolo town while awaiting the return of his 13 fellow preachers from the guerrilla camp, said: "Our strong faith in God will save us from danger. We will continue our peace mission ... despite all obstacles."

The military says Abu Sayyaf leaders Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan have taken Almeda's group hostage and are demanding seven million pesos (about R1,107-million) in ransom for their release.

Security sources said on Wednesday that another Abu Sayyaf faction tried to seize the preachers to "liquidate" them. This almost led to a gunbattle with Andang's and Susukan's group.

Chua said that Almeda had told him they would be in the kidnappers' lair for only three days. However, despite their absence, he said he did not believe they had been kidnapped.

"We do not believe the rebels are holding our group and our beloved pastor captive because Islam means peace, it means love, it means submission, it means God and we were sent by God to resolve problems," said Chua.

He said there had been no demands for any ransom for Almeda and the other preachers.

"We believe that he has powers and he will not be hit by bullets, even if he is shot," he added.

Andang has denied holding Almeda's group, saying in a message that they were staying in the camp on their own free will for a 40-day fast.

A Filipino journalist who visited an Abu Sayyaf hideout in the village of Tiis Kutong told colleagues on Wednesday that he took photographs of Almeda and his 12 followers with their hands tied behind their backs.

Andreas Lorenz, the German reporter of Der Spiegel magazine, was seized by another Abu Sayyaf faction on Sunday, but no demands have been given for his release.

The condition of the 20 original hostages also remains unknown as no government emissary has seen them this month.

The Abu Sayyaf, a coalition of various armed groups and who style themselves as independence fighters, have made political demands and sought a ransom of a million dollars for each of the 20 original hostages.

In an appeal to the Abu Sayyaf, aired over government radio on Thursday, Chua asked the Muslim extremists to stay calm and to pray with Almeda. - Sapa-AFP

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