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Philippine Rebels Threaten to Behead American Hostages - 2001-10-15

Philippine Muslim rebels have threatened to execute two American hostages unless the government halts its military offensive against them. The rebels say the beheadings will be timed to embarrass President Gloria Arroyo when she meets with President Bush next month.

The Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebel group made its threat to kill an American missionary couple in a telephone call to Radio Mindanao Network in the southern Philippines. A rebel spokesman, Abu Sabaya, say they would behead Martin and Gracia Burnham before President Gloria Arroyo's planned visit to the United States on November 20, unless the government ceases its military operation on the southern island of Basilan. Abu Sabaya told the radio station it would be very embarrassing if President Arroyo traveled to the United States with the bodies of the American couple.

A man identified as hostage Martin Burnham was also put on the air, pleading for an end to the military pursuit of the rebels. "I am very tired and weak and frightened. I would like to request the Philippine government and [the U.S.] government to negotiate with these people," Burnham said. Last week, authorities identified the remains of another American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, whom the Abu Sayyaf claimed to have beheaded in June. Mr. Sobero, the Burnhams and 17 Filipinos were abducted from a southern resort in May. Some of those kidnapped had been freed after reportedly paying ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines, came to the international spotlight through a series of high-profile kidnappings of foreigners.

The government considers the Abu Sayyaf rebels "bandits," refuses to negotiate with them and has vowed to wipe them out militarily. There also have been vague links made between the Abu Sayyaf and Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11th terror attacks in the United States.