US spy planes search for kidnapped priest

American forces have deployed Orion spy planes in the search for an Italian missionary priest kidnapped in the Philippines.

The Australian reports that the US has deployed Orion spy planes and on-the-ground intelligence assistance as part of a large-scale military and police hunt for an Italian Catholic priest kidnapped by suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants in the southern Philippines.

Fr Giancarlo Bossi, a 57-year-old missionary with the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions in Milan, was abducted by armed men when riding a motorbike to a church outside Zamboanga City, on the southern island on Mindanao, on Sunday.

Police believe the Milan-born priest, who has worked with poor parishes in The Philippines since his ordination in the 1980s, was seized by renegade former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, possibly allied with the deadly Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group.

The al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has a history of targeting Christians and missionaries in the southern Philippines.

In April, seven labourers, all Christians, were kidnapped and beheaded by Abu Sayyaf bandits on Jolo island, with their heads delivered to army headquarters.

No ransom demand has yet been made, but the Italian Government had already ruled out paying for the release of Fr Bossi, said Philippines President Gloria Arroyo's executive secretary, Eduardo Ermita.

Investigators believe Fr Bossi, who was taken by armed men to a waiting boat on the Zamboanga peninsula, may have been taken to one of the small islands such as Jolo surrounding Mindanao and popular with Islamist militants.

"If these (kidnappers) are MILF then it could very well be like the other abductions where the victims would be brought to Jolo," Mr Ermita said. "That is always their modus operandi, they bring them to Jolo then go to (neighbouring) Basilan."

Fr Bossi is the third Italian priest to be abducted in the southern Philippines in a decade.

The MILF separatists, who are engaged in peace talks with Manila, have offered to aid the search for Fr Bossi. Officially backed by 12,000 armed men, the MILF said it condemned the kidnapping and distanced itself from a former MILF commander said to be behind the crime.

Zenit adds that Philippines bishops and Pope Benedict have also launched an appeal for the release of Fr Bossi.

Msgr Pedro Quitorio, the spokesman for the Philippines bishops' conference, said today: "We implore the abductors: Please, save the missionary. We pray that he will be released as soon as possible, so he can return to lending his help to our people."

US's Orion spy planes hunt for snatched priest (The Australian, 12/6/07)
Bishops Urge Release of Kidnapped Priest (AsiaNews, 12/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
P3 Orion (Wikipedia)
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Wikipedia)
PIME Missionaries

Kidnapped Italian priest still alive but not well (CathNews, 21/11/01)
Italian priest kidnapped in Philippines (CathNews, 19/10/01)
Philippines missionaries remain in kidnap territory but urge prayers (CathNews, 8/8/01)

13 Jun 2007