June 7, ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP)--U.S.-trained Philippine troops freed a Kansas missionary after more than a year in captivity Friday but her American husband and a Filipino nurse were killed during the shootout with their Muslim extremist kidnappers.

Four of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers were killed and seven soldiers wounded in the operation by the Light Reaction Company, a stealth unit equipped with silencers, night vision equipment and high-tech headsets. U.S. helicopters were at the scene, helping to remove the wounded.

Martin Burnham, 42, when kidnapped more than a year ago along with his wife Gracia by the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, was killed by a gunshot, said Gen. Narciso Abaya, the Philippine deputy military chief of staff. It was unclear whether he was a victim of the rebels or friendly fire. Abu Sayyaf is believed to have links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorism network.

Abaya said Ediborah Yap, a Filipino nurse kidnapped shortly after the Burnhams, also was shot in the rescue operation and died of her wounds.

Burnham's wife, 43, underwent surgery in a military hospital in the southern city of Zamboanga, said Maj. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, commander of Philippine forces in the south. Doctors said a bullet passed through her in the thigh.

``She's talking. She's out of danger,'' Carolina told reporters.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she offered sympathy to the Burnham and Yap families.

``This has been a long and painful trial for them, for our government, for our country,'' she said.

``Our soldiers tried their best to hold their fire for safety,'' Macapagal Arroyo said. ``We shall not stop until the Abu Sayyaf is finished.''

Philippine officers said hundreds of elite troops equipped with night vision goggles and U.S. surveillance technology launched the attack to free the missionaries Friday near the town of Siraway on on the main island of Mindanao as part of an extended rescue operation that has been going on for almost two weeks.

The Philippine military said intelligence showed that members of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim rebel group infamous for beheading hostages, were holed up with at least one of the Burnhams near the village in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte.

The U.S.-trained Light Reaction Company fanned out secretly throughout the area of coconut groves and farms in recent days after solid indications that at least one of the Burnhams was held near there.

Philippine officers said the guerrillas evaded the troops for days but were slowed down by heavy rains Friday, allowing the soldiers to catch them.

The Burnhams were kidnapped May 27, 2001 by members of the Abu Sayyaf. Yap was kidnapped days later when the Abu Sayyaf, with the Burnhams in tow, raided a hospital in the southern town of Lamitan to seize hospital staff and medicine to treat their wounded.

The guerrillas kidnapped 18 other people along with the Burnhams, including 17 Filipinos and Corona, Calif., resident Guillermo Sobero.

Sobero was beheaded by the guerrillas in June 2001, according to U.S. and Filipino officials.

The Abu Sayyaf fighters are thought to number only 60 or so from an original force of 1,000 after a year of army offensives. The group says it is fighting to carve a Muslim state out of the southern Philippines.

U.S. Green Berets, pilots, military engineers and support staff are in the southern Philippines, training local forces to better fight the Abu Sayyaf.

Martin Burnham's parents, Paul and Oreta Burnham, received the news of his death at their home in Rose Hill, Kan.

``The Lord will give us the strength to get through this,'' Burnham said when he came to the door. He said Arroyo had called him.

Before a prayer service at Rose Hill Bible Church early this morning, Martin Burnham's brother, Doug Burnham, said the family was still trying to grasp the news.

``God has given us strength. It is kind of numbing right now. I suppose the full impact has not hit us.''

Two of Martin Burnham's uncles, David and Ralph Burnham, were among those gathering at the church.

``Whatever his will is, we will accept it,'' David Burnham said. ``This could have happened a long time ago. We appreciate we still have Gracia.''

David Burnham said that as of Thursday the family didn't even know if the Martin and Gracia were still on the island and the rescue attempt came as a surprise to them.

He also said that the three Burnham children - Jeff, 15, Mindy, 12, and Zach, 11 - will be returning home to Kansas later today. The other grandparents, Norvin and Betty Jo Jones, will drive them up from Cherokee, Ark.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad