Martin Burnham reportedly executed by Abu Sayyaf as troops opened fire
New Tribes missionary Martin Burnham and Filipina nurse Deborah Yap were killed today in a failed effort to free them from the Muslim guerrilla Abu Sayyaf group. (Update: reports say Yap may still be alive.) Gracia Burnham, who was dressed in military fatigues in an apparent attempt to confuse rescuers, was shot at least eight times in her right leg, but she was freed and is recuperating in a local military hospital. She'll be flown to an American base on Okinawa later today.
The Abu Sayyaf leaders reportedly escaped because of the bad weather.
"The terrorists shall not be allowed to get away with this," said Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. "We shall not stop until the Abu Sayyaf is finished. … I commiserate with the Burnham and Yap families. This has been a long and painful trial for them, for our government, for our country."
Martin Burnham was executed by the guerrillas once the raid began, said Army Scout Rangers Colonel Renato Padua.
Arroyo, who said the soldiers "tried their best to hold their fire for safety," called Martin's parents, Paul and Oreta Burnham, this morning. "The Lord will give us the strength to get through this," Paul Burnham said.
In a message aired over the local radio network, Oreta told Gracia, "We talked to your mom, and we really remember you and are praying for you. We love you very much." The Burnhams' three children have reportedly not yet been told of their father's death. "The other grandparents are going to break the news soon. It's a hard situation. We don't know what our plans are," Oreta said.
Details on the fighting are yet to come, but the timing is a bit odd. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was considering expanding the U.S. military presence and actions in the area, allowing U.S. special forces to "train" Philippine forces in the battle zone. Was the raid a last-ditch effort by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to free the hostages without having to credit U.S. involvement? Brigadier-General Emmanuel Teodosio explained that the Philippine military found footprints leading to the guerrillas and decided to act decisively, but acting Armed Forces spokesperson Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya says, "We planned for the operation."
Philippine military officers say they consider the rescue effort a success. "It was really a successful operation, and we wanted to have a very safe rescue operations. But unfortunately there were some casualties," said Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Roy Cimatu.
Roilo Golez, national security adviser to President Arroyo, says now is not the time to second-guess the operation. "We should all rally behind our soldiers who are doing their best," he said.
Philippine officials are quick to say that there was no U.S. involvement in the fighting, although one report says a U.S. helicopter was seen. The American military has been providing weapons, equipment, and training for more than four months.
Weblog's author, Ted Olsen, is off to Kansas to do some original reporting in the Burnhams' home town. Unfortunately, that means our site won't have updates on this situation until Monday. In the meantime, check out Yahoo's full coverage, The Philippine Inquirer, The Daily Tribune, ABS-CBN, New Tribes Mission, The Wichita Eagle and The Orlando Sentinel. AFP has a helpful timeline of the Burnhams' captivity.
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