News Articles

U.S. offering $5M for terrorists responsible for Burnhams’ kidnapping

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The U.S. government is offering a reward of up to $5 million for Muslim terrorist leaders in the Philippines responsible for the kidnapping of American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham more than a year ago.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal has urged the United States not to withdraw U.S. troops who have been deployed to help Philippines forces defeat the terrorists and free the missionaries.

Announcement of the reward was made by U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone in Manila the week of May 27, according to news reports.

The reward is focused on the Abu Sayyaf Group, which kidnapped the Burnhams and a Filipina nurse on May 27, 2001. The Burnhams are affiliated with New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla., an evangelical missions agency planting indigenous churches among unevangelized people groups in remote areas around the world.

The Abu Sayyaf Group has been linked by U.S. officials with the Al Queda terror network of Osama bin Laden.

Ricciardone, in a statement explaining the offer under the U.S. Rewards for Justice program, noted, “We believe that ordinary citizens of the Philippines and elsewhere may have the information that can help bring the Abu Sayyaf terrorists to justice.” Ricciardone added that the program has saved many lives around the world, according to a May 29 Reuters report.

More than 600 U.S. troops were deployed to the Philippines in January to aid the Asian nation’s army in battling the terrorist group holding the Burnhams on Basilan Island in the Philippines.

The July 15 scheduled departure of the U.S. troops drew The Wall Street Journal’s protest in an editorial titled, “The Plight of the Burnhams,” in late May.

The Journal commented that “there were high public hopes for the deployment of U.S. Special Forces to the southern Philippine islands: The hostages would be freed, their Abu Sayyaf captors would be vanquished and Southeast Asia would be cleansed of one major breeding ground for Islamic terrorist groups. With six weeks before the U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out on July 15, none of these objectives have been met. …

“After the attacks of September 11, President Bush declared that violence against Americans would not be tolerated and would guarantee reprisals. There are now worries that the Bush Administration is softening that stance. Perhaps those worries are overdrawn. But pulling U.S. troops out of the Philippines while Americans are still held captive, and before al Qaeda is defeated, sends the wrong message to terrorists around the world.”

The Journal acknowledged Philippine and U.S. statements that major Abu Sayyaf weapons depots have been captured, 250 alleged terrorists have been killed and the group’s numbers have fallen from about 800 to less than 100. The Journal also reported, “There are also signs of squabbling among the bandits. Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya reportedly has run off with ransom money and is being targeted by his own guerrilla fighters.”

Even so, The Journal asserted, “U.S. departure from the Philippines still seems premature. Estimates of a large Abu Sayyaf fighting force were always inflated. The real problems are that Islamic radicals could hide within the local population and use ransom booty to purchase sophisticated weaponry. The fact that a rag-tag group can outfox the combined efforts of U.S. and Philippine forces on an island that’s less than 18 miles in diameter demonstrates the elusiveness of Islamic militants.”

The Journal further noted, “The 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago are impossible for the coast guard and army to fully control. Radicals trained by Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups come and go from Malaysia or Indonesia. The U.S. has only begun to build roads on Basilan that would make the Filipino military more effective and the local population less likely to cooperate with Abu Sayyaf.

“Engagement with the Philippine military has other benefits, such as demonstrating how armed forces are supposed to behave in a democracy,” The Journal continued. “If nothing else, sticking around will further help the Philippines grapple with its security problems while buying more time for American forces to try to help free the Burnhams.”

New Tribes Mission, in a statement issued May 28, the date of the Burnham’s 19th wedding anniversary, recounted that Oreta and Paul Burnham made a plea for the release of their son and daughter-in-law in an address played on Radio Mindanao several times May 27. The senior Burnhams have been missionaries in the Philippines for more than 32 years.

Oreta Burnham said in the message, “It doesn’t seem possible that one year ago we received the call that you had been taken captive and held as hostages. It has been a hard year for you and your children and all of your family. Jeff, Mindy and Zach [Martin and Gracia’s children] miss you and want you to know they love you very, very much. They miss you playing with them, your good cooking, your hugs and just having you with them. We love you so much and look forward to giving you hugs and just talking to you again. One year has been a long time. We remember you and pray for you many times in the day and night. We pray that you are well and have your needs met. Your friends and family are praying for you also.”

Paul Burnham added, “Martin and Gracia, we have not forgotten you. Your family loves you and waits for you.”

New Tribes Mission updated its assessment of the Burhams’ physical condition, stating, “From our sources and recent media reports, we understand that Martin is suffering or has recently suffered from malaria. Our information leads us to believe that Martin’s condition is not as serious as it is being reported to be. Recent reports about Gracia also concern us. She may have a urinary tract infection, but this has not been confirmed.”

To fellow Christians, the mission agency stated, “Thank you so much for praying faithfully. Please do not become weary in well-doing. Let us continue to pray, and to trust God.”

Martin and Gracia Burnham have been NTM workers since 1985; he is a pilot and she also works in conjunction with NTM aviation needs. The New Tribes Mission’s website is www.ntm.org; e-mail updates about the Burnhams can be received by sending an e-mail to [email protected]