Maria Ressa: Love, prayers kept Burnhams going
(CNN) -- American missionary Martin Burnham -- who along with his wife Gracia had been held captive for over a year in the Philippines by the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf -- was killed Friday morning in a rescue attempt. Philippine nurse and hostage Deborah Yap was also killed in the firefight. Gracia Burnham escaped with a wound to her right leg.
CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa, who is in the Philippines, spoke with CNN Anchor Fredricka Whitfield on Friday.
RESSA: Fredricka, there was a fierce firefight between the Filipino soldiers and the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers, an al Qaeda-linked group that's been holding the Burnhams since they were kidnapped on May 27 . Martin Burnham was killed in that firefight. His wife Gracia was wounded [and] was rescued by Filipino troops. She was brought to the hospital at the Southern Command in Zamboanga City. She's been declared out of danger, according to the Marine Brigadier General Emmanuel Teodosion.
WHITFIELD: How did the soldiers get wind of exactly where they were?
RESSA: This rescue operation is actually part of a much larger force by the Philippines. More than 5,000 soldiers have been there for more than a year and a half. The mission, really, is to wipe out the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf. There was a special team trained by the United States, a light reaction company that's equipped with high-tech equipment that fanned out in that area. They seem to be largely responsible for the rescue attempt.
But part of the problem, of course, is that one of the reasons U.S. and Filipino soldiers took such a long time to get them was they said that they wanted to get the rescue and to get both of these hostages out safely.
WHITFIELD: Now, Maria, CNN has spoken to the family members of the Burnham couple. They are devastated. What, if anything, has been said by Gracia?
RESSA: Gracia has not said anything at this point. She's not been made available to the press. But this is certainly a heartbreaking incident. Keep in mind that this couple have lived in the Philippines for the past 15 years. On May 27, the day they were kidnapped more than a year ago, they were actually at a Palawan, a resort in the southern Philippines, celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary.
And over the last year we've seen the two of them lose a lot of weight. They've had several appeals, not just to their families but to the United States and Philippine governments. And what they've said during a very traumatic ordeal for them is that what's kept them alive through these experiences was their love for each other and their prayers. Both of them are Christian missionaries.
We can only hazard a guess at what Gracia Burnham must be going through now. We will have some time to get to her later on. But it must be devastating given the experiences that she's gone through.
WHITFIELD: Was a ransom paid?
RESSA: There certainly have been reports about it. This is not the first time the Abu Sayyaf have kidnapped Western hostages. In the year 2000, they made almost a million dollars in ransom from European hostages. And there were reports earlier this year that about $300,000 had been paid by the family of the Burnhams.
[It] was confirmed by U.S. and Filipino authorities that that was paid through emissaries, but that, according to the family, the Abu Sayyaf had reneged on that deal. Subsequently [the] Abu Sayyaf denied that they ever got any of that money.
So it's unclear. What characterizes this, though, is how murky the situation is in the southern Philippines and how difficult it is to trust anyone there and in particular in a situation like this how even a rescue effort could be seen as a very negative thing for the hostages who are there.
WHITFIELD: Now, Maria, one more time, you said a press conference is forthcoming and [is Gracia] expected in attendance?
RESSA: Not with Gracia. The conference is being given in Manila at the armed forces headquarters here. It's being given by the armed forces chief. Gracia Burnham is being held in a hospital in the southern Philippines, which is roughly an hour and a half away by plane from the capital.
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