WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- A leader of an Islamic separatist group pleaded guilty Wednesday in the 1995 forced-march hostage-taking of 16 people in the Philippines, U.S. authorities said.
The Justice Department said Madhatta Haipe, a Filipino who was a founding member of al-Harakat al-Islamiyyah, also known as the Abu Sayyaf Group, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington to four counts of hostage-taking. Four Americans and a U.S. permanent resident alien were among those abducted.
The group allegedly undertook the kidnappings for ransom to raise cash and increase public awareness of its cause, Justice officials said. The group has since been designated a terrorist organization.
The 16 victims, including six children, were kidnapped Dec. 27, 1995, near Trankini Falls in southern Mindanao and forced to march up a mountainside. Four hostages were freed the same day so the group could collect about $38,000 in ransom.
The remainder of the hostages were forced to continue marching until they were released four days later after a ransom was paid.
"For roughly 15 years, FBI agents, Justice Department prosecutors and authorities in the Philippines relentlessly pursued this matter on behalf of the victims, who were held hostage and threatened with death by this Abu Sayyaf leader," Assistant Attorney General David Kris said in a release. "With today's guilty plea, Mr. Haipe is finally being held accountable for his actions."
Haipe, 48, was indicted in November 2000 and extradited last August. He faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 14.