Jihadists in Paradise
A kidnapping at a Philippine resort triggered a yearlong hunt for pirate terrorists and their American hostages. A behind-the-scenes tale of intrigue, spycraft, and betrayal. By Mark Bowden
Web-only: Related Video
Watch CIA surveillance footage and video interviews with the story's key players.
On May 27, 2001, a small militant Islamist group known as the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 20 vacationers and staffers from a resort on an island in the Southern Philippines. Their hope was to pressure the Philippine government into granting Muslim Filipinos an independent state. Among the hostages were three Americans; two of them, a Baptist missionary couple named Martin and Gracia Burnham, ended up spending more than a year in captivity in the jungle. In his March cover story, “Jihadists in Paradise” Mark Bowden chronicles the hostages’ ordeal and the ultimately successful efforts of the Philippine military—aided by American intelligence—to eliminate the group’s leading figure.
Although the Philippine government had long considered the Abu Sayyaf Group a threat, the United States government was fairly indifferent to their presence—even after the three American citizens were taken hostage. The press, too, reacted somewhat apathetically, leaving the public for the most part uninformed. The day of the kidnappings, the Associated Press reported tersely, “American tourists among hostages taken from Philippine resort.” Many major U.S. newspapers failed to cover the story at all, or, if they did, their editors gave it short shrift. The Washington Post, for example, buried the story on page 12A. For several months after the kidnappings, the only New York Times mention of the Burnhams was in short clips pulled from the AP or Reuters.