Former American Missionary Testifies Against Abductors, Recounts Ordeal

( [email protected] ) Aug 02, 2004 06:37 PM EDT

Former American missionary Gracia Burnham wept as she testified last Thursday against her alleged Muslim extremist abductors who held her, her husband, and a Filipino Nurse captive for a year in the southern Philippine jungle.

Burnham, who was escorted by Philippine authorities and U.S. FBI agents, identified six of the eight al-Qaida-link Abu Sayyaf rebels present in a closed-door hearing inside a police camp.

During her 2 1/2 hours on the stand, Burnham was brought to tears twice as she gave details about their ordeal, including when she described the death of her husband during a military rescue operation on June 7, 2002.

"According to her, she cannot forget them because she ate and lived with them for almost a year," said Aristotle Reyes, the prosecutor at the hearing. "So far, she is the witness who had the clearest recollection of what happened."

The Burnhams, longtime missionaries who were in the Philippines as part of Florida-based New Tribes Mission, were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary when the Abu Sayyaf snatched them at the resort on May 27, 2001, taking them by speedboat to southern Basilan island. Also seized were Guillermo Sobero of Corona, California, and 17 Filipino workers and tourists.

Burnham told the court that 14 of the 17 Filipinos seized from a beach resort on Palawan Island in the western Philippines were released separately after their relatives paid ransom.

She also recounted how the Abu Sayyaf "celebrated" after news broke about Al-Qaeda's terror attacks in the United States in September 2001, state prosecutor Leo Dacera told journalists.

"She is important in the sense that she would have first-hand knowledge of the suspects who last held her ... to tie up the whole conspiracy from beginning to end," he said.

The trial is part of the Philippines' quest to impose justice on suspected militants accused of mass kidnappings, deadly bombing and beheadings. For Burnham, who was invited to testify under a mutual legal assistance treaty between Washington and Manila, the trial could provide closure to her 377-day nightmare.