Abu Sayyaf Warns of 'Punishments' Against U.S. Citizens

The Abu Sayyaf terrorist group called on God to help it punish the United States for working with the Philippines government in its drive to wipe out the Al Qaeda linked organization.

"Sooner or later, may Allah will it that you will get his punishments through us so that you may be tilted into your senses," Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sulaiman said Thursday in a statement addressed to the U.S. government.

"The very things you hold dear in this world, your lives and your properties, are not safe from us. For what is dear to you, we gladly dedicate for the sake of our creator so that there may be true peace and justice in real sense in this world," said the statement, delivered in English on RMN radio.

It was the first public word from the group since a sea clash last month with U.S.-supported forces reportedly killed one of the group's leaders. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered her military to wipe out the remainder of the group.

The president repeatedly has vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf, which has staged mass kidnappings for ransom. Their most recent kidnapping spree stretched over a year and involved 102 hostages at various times, including an American missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan.

The Burnhams and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were the last hostages. A rescue attempt June 7 left Martin Burnham and Yap dead, along with four of the rebels. Gracia, shot through the thigh, was evacuated.

While Abu Sayyaf numbers have diminished, no one is writing off the heavily armed guerrillas, who have found fertile recruiting grounds in the country's poverty-stricken, Muslim-dominated south.

A six-month U.S. counterterrorism training exercise is scheduled to end July 31 on southern Basilan island, one of the Abu Sayyaf's strongholds. Washington and Manila are talking about further exercises, possibly in October on another island stronghold of the group.

Sulaiman vilified the long U.S. presence in the former American colony and accused American forces of "kidnapping and killing innocent civilians" and collaborating with the Philippine government to annex traditional Muslim areas.