Two headless bodies discovered in the Philippines are not believed to be Americans despite claims by a Muslim rebel group to have beheaded a U.S. hostage they've held since last month.
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.
The Abu Sayyaf, said by the U.S. government to be the smallest and most radical of Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines, claimed earlier today to have beheaded Guillermo Sobero, one of three Americans it has been holding since last month.
But neither body was that of an American, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez told Reuters, adding that both men were Filipino volunteer negotiators.
At a press briefing today, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, however, could confirm only that one "torso" was found and said U.S. authorities were not certain it was not that of Sobero.
"We need to allow time for the appropriate forensics examinations," he said.
Hostages Not Killed Previously
The Abu Sayyaf, which split off from another group in 1991 and operates generally in the southern Philippines, has kidnapped more than 30 foreigners in its history. But it has never before killed a foreign hostage despite many threats to do so, though it has engaged in bombings and assassinations.
The claim by the group that it beheaded Sobero, a 40-year-old California native, has attracted widespread condemnation in the international community.
One of the bodies was discovered on the opposite side of Basilan Island in southern Philippines to where the Abu Sayyaf claimed to have killed Sobero. A second body was discovered a short time later.
Although there were no U.S. teams on the ground and officials still held out the hope that the Abu Sayyaf claims were false, there were growing concerns that the guerrilla group did indeed carry out beheadings.
"I'm still hoping this is not true, and I'm holding on to that belief," Sobero's younger brother, Alberto, told The Associated Press from his home in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs.
A Chilling Call
Tensions have been high following a telephone call to a local radio station earlier today by Abu Sabaya, a spokesman for the guerrilla group.
"We've released unconditionally one American, our amigo Guillermo [Sobero], but we released him without a head," Sabaya told Radio Mindanao Network, according to The Associated Press.
Sabaya said they beheaded the American "because the Philippine government is toying with us."
Sobero, from Corona, Calif., along with 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.
Sabaya called the killing a gift to the nation on its independence day, which is being celebrated today. He added that government troops should search for the headless body before it is eaten by dogs.
‘A Cowardly Act’
The U.S. Embassy in Manila condemned what it called "a cowardly act" if Sobero had been killed.
"The murder of an innocent person is a cowardly act. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this reported action," it said in a statement. "We hold the Abu Sayyaf group responsible for the safety and welfare of all of the people it is holding … We call for the safe, immediate and unconditional release of the innocent persons being held."