claim two hostages beheaded in Philippines
20 April 2000 (Newsroom) -- Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines say they beheaded two teachers Wednesday who were among 29 Catholic hostages from two schools in Basilan province. The extremist rebel group Al Haratul Islamiya, also known as Abu Sayyaf, did not give the names of the victims, but said they were school teachers who formerly were soldiers, rebel spokesman Abu Ahmad Salayuddin told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper of Manila. He said that six Abu Sayyaf members used a barong, a sword-like weapon, to decapitate the two shortly after a 3 p.m. deadline passed without a government response to demands made earlier this week. The 1,000-member rebel group, which is aligned with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that is fighting to establish a Muslim state in the region, has warned that it will start kidnapping and killing Americans if the United States government does not release three Arabs convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City. The group also wants all crosses removed in Basilan; the banning of foreign fishermen in the island's fishing grounds; the teaching of the Muslim religion in schools; and the presence of a Vatican representative in the negotiations with the government. On Tuesday Abu Sayyaf announced it would execute two captives after Philippine President Joseph Estrada rejected the group's demands as ''impossible,'' pointing out that the government has no authority over prisoners in a foreign country. The ABS-CBN broadcasting network in the Philippines reported Thursday that Basilan province governor Wahab Akbar fears that news of the beheadings may spark a religious war between Muslims and Christians. The governor said that several vigilante groups composed of Christian civilians have been formed and would begin killing Muslims once they confirm that the beheadings took place. Akbar expressed skepticism that the rebels actually carried out the executions and challenged them to prove their claim. President Estrada's press secretary Ricardo Puno said Wednesday he had received independent confirmation from reliable sources, but refused to elaborate. ABS-CBN reported that a Christian vigilante group holding the family of Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani has threatened to behead its captives after learning of the hostages' execution. The group kidnapped Janjalani's relatives in retaliation for the abduction of the school group. They released Janjalani's wife and daughter earlier, hoping to expedite the release of Abu Sayyaf's captives. Among the Abu Sayyaf hostages, according to the Missionary Information News Agency (MISNA), is 34-year-old priest Rhoel Gallardo of the Claretian Missionaries order, which runs a school in the village of Tumahubong on Basilan Island. Some 70 people from that school and another nearby were abducted March 20 by rebel soldiers fleeing government troops after a failed attack on an army outpost. The Abu Sayyaf rebels reportedly seized students and teachers to use them as "human shields'' against pursuing soldiers. Most members of the school group were released shortly after their capture. The Catholic hostages, mostly children and women, are being held at a rebel camp on Mount Mahadji according to Philippine press reports. The Manila government said on Tuesday said that several ''military options'' to rescue the hostages were being considered and responded harshly to news of the killings on Wednesday. ''They have drawn the first blood and signed their own death warrant,'' Armed Forces spokesman Col. Rafael Romero said in Manila. By Wednesday night, however, Manila said it was prepared to ''consider other options,'' adding that it was still counting on local negotiators to resolve the crisis. The Abu Sayyaf group has been blamed for kidnappings and bomb attacks on Christian targets since the early 1990s. In 1995, the rebels killed more than 50 people in a raid on the Christian town of Ipil. The decades-long insurgency to establish a Muslim state has taken the lives of some 120,000 people. An adviser of the group's ally, the MILF, called the Wednesday executions ''cowardly, barbaric and un-Islamic'' and urged the Abu Sayyaf rebels to release their hostages. ''If they want to get even with the government, they shouldn't use innocent civilians like teachers, infants, women, elders, priests, monks," Ustadz Mohsin Julabbi told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "Even prisoners of war should be treated carefully.'' Julabbi warned the kidnappers: "In the end you will answer for this act before Allah and Prophet Muhammad, our benefactor.''
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