Muslim extremists
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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