Church workers snatched in Philippines
Al-Qaeda associates suspected
Frederick Banot, one of the two men kidnapped on Wednesday
Gunmen believed to be from the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group abducted two Church workers on Wednesday in the remote coastal town of Lantawan, in the southern Philippines province of Basilan.
Authorities said heavily armed men on board a jungkung, a Malaysian watercraft, came ashore in the village of Tairan and snatched Frederick Banot and Cherden Masong at around 7:30pm.
Claretian missionary priest Eduardo Apungan said Banot and Masong work for the Claret Samal Foundation Inc. (CSFI), a Church-based organization dedicated to helping the Badjaos, an indigenous sea gypsy tribe in the southern Philippines.
Banot and Masong, who work for the organization's literacy program in the village, were staying in the CSFI staff house when the kidnapping occurred.
Senior Superintendent Mario Dapillosa, Basilan provincial police director, said the gunmen stormed the house and dragged Banot and Masong to the waiting watercraft.
Apungan, who heads the Claretian congregation's apostolate program in the country, said no group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction.
"The crisis management committee is still meeting," Apungan said on Thursday. Local residents, however, said the abductors are most likely members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on the island.
Capt Jefferson Somera, spokesman of the army's 1st Infantry Division, said troops from the army's 14th Special Forces Company have been deployed to search for Banot and Mason.
Somera said the troops were augmented by intelligence personnel monitoring the coastal areas of Lantawan, Maluso and Hadji Muhtamad towns. He said the military has also coordinated with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Moro National Liberation Front and local government units for the identification of the abductors.
The province of Basilan has been known as a bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is behind a number of high profile kidnapping and ransom cases.
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