Officials in the southern Philippines say four more beheaded bodies were found Saturday. That brings to nine the number of hostages killed since Muslim rebels kidnapped more than 30 people when they raided a village two days ago.
The mayor of Lamitan town on the island of Basilan told Radio Mindanao Network that the four latest victims were among those seized Thursday from two Christian villages. All of the victims have been Philippine Christian males.
Lieutenant General Gregorio Camiling, head of military forces of South Command, said the Abu Sayyaf rebel group is believed to still be holding several Filipino hostages from the latest raid. Officials say several hostages were freed to relay the Abu Sayyaf's demand that the army halt its offensive.
The rebel group is still holding at least two Americans and 19 Filipinos who were kidnapped in May.
So far, the rebels have eluded a 5,000 strong military force sent to capture them. The government says the latest kidnapping raid was intended to divert the military's attention away from its pursuit of the main Abu Sayyaf force holding the Americans.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the Philippine government to do more to end the crisis and to rescue the American hostages. President Gloria Arroyo said the latest kidnapping will not halt the military operations against the rebels.
The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for an independent Muslim state. The Philippine government has refused to recognize the group as representing the interest of 5 million Filipino Muslims, and has called the rebels bandits.