The wife of an American businessman kidnapped in the Philippines filed a missing persons report the day he was abducted by a Muslim rebel group from a posh resort in the southern Philippines, ABCNEWS.com has learned.
In the report, Fanny Sobero, the wife of Guillermo Sobero, said he left home on May 23 for Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border with his brother, but he had been to the Philippines earlier this year and she had suspicions that he had a "Muslim girlfriend" there.
On May 27, two days before his 40th birthday, Sobero was in a resort on Palawan Island in the Philippines when Abu Sayyaf rebels, a Muslim separatist group, stormed the resort, kidnapping him along with two other U.S. citizens and 17 other people.
More than two weeks after the kidnappings, a spokesman for the Abu Sayyaf said the group had beheaded Sobero, although U.S. State Department officials are skeptical of the claim, saying there is no proof that Sobero was killed.
The fact that Fanny Sobero had no idea the California businessman was in the Philippines has added an awkward twist to an already traumatic situation.
Mrs. Sobero's first inkling that her husband wasn't in the United States was a phone call from a reporter asking if she knew the kidnapped man.
The Soberos are divorcing.
Unaware of Father’s Ordeal
While yellow ribbons flutter on the trees near Soberos' Corona, Calif., home, neighbors have been grappling with a mix of emotions.
"Of course this is not the first time I heard about it, but it's none of my business," said Cherrill Renwick, 67, a neighbor who has known the Soberos since they moved in seven years ago. "It doesn't change the way I think. I just hope they get him back. He has four children, three little ones. My prayers are with them."
The Soberos' three sons, ages 2, 3 and 6, do not know about their father's ordeal. His 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage is aware of the situation, family members have said.
Although the Abu Sayyaf has killed some of its Filipino captives in the past, the rebels have never killed a foreigner, despite many threats to do so.
The Philippine military's ongoing massive search of Basilan Island, a thickly forested southern Philippine island where the Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding its hostages, have so far failed to find Sobero's body.
Three bodies were found on Basilan Island but none of them were American. For Sobero's anxious family, that was good news.
"I heard from the State Department last night, and they said they have not positively identified the bodies," Sobero's brother Alberto told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "We're still hanging onto that hope, that's all we have left now, just hope."
The Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting to carve out an independent Islamic state from the southern Philippines, is notorious for using the media as part of its negotiating tactics, and has in the past released its foreign captives in exchange for multimillion-dollar ransoms.
‘No Ransom. No Deal’
Philippine authorities have been resolute that there will be no negotiations for ransom this time, even if an American hostage has been killed, and have ordered an all-out war against the guerrillas.
Manila is prepared for more fighting, more bloodshed and the possibility that more hostages are likely to be killed as they attempt to crush what President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo calls an evil band of criminals and hostage-takers.
Promising a "long and bloody war" with the Abu Sayyaf, Arroyo said there would be no let-up in the government's attempts to wipe out the rebels from their base on the southern islands of Basilan and Sulu.
"We will meet fire with fire, and more," Arroyo said at a nationally televised news conference. "No ransom. No deal. No cease-fire. No suspension of the military operation."
No Plans for U.S. Intervention
Senior U.S. officials say they are in close contact with their counterparts in the Philippines, but have no plans to intervene militarily.
"We continue to work intensively with Philippine government authorities to ascertain the facts on the reported death," State Department spokesman Phil Reeker told reporters in Washington. "And we continue to call for the safe, immediate, and unconditional release of all the innocent persons being held."
In a plea on Good Morning America, Alberto Sobero called upon the Bush administration to rethink its policy. "If, in fact, they have harmed my brother, maybe it's time the Bush administration change the way it's been handling this situation," he said.
A senior U.S. official told ABCNEWS that sources in the Philippines had seen a videotape of a beheading, but it was not immediately clear who the victim was.
Along with Sobero, Martin and Gracia Burnham, two missionaries from Wichita, Kan., and 17 others were taken from a posh resort on the Sulu Sea on May 27.
On Monday, the guerrillas stormed a coconut and coffee plantation in southern Basilan and took 15 more hostages, including two 12-year-old children. The rebels also burned down five houses and a chapel. After a series of escapes, executions and new seizures, the rebels hold 28 hostages. ABCNEWS' Mark Litke in Manila and Martha Raddatz in Washington contributed to this report.