Rebels Threaten More Killings in Philippines

A Muslim extremist leader responsible for the abduction of dozens of hostages threatened Monday to kill more of his captives if the Philippine government doesn't accept his choice of negotiators.

Speaking by satellite telephone from the jungles of Basilan island in the south, Abu Sabaya told The Associated Press he will only issue a list of demands once a former Malaysian senator, a Malaysian businessman and a Filipino official are brought in to mediate. All three were involved in a hostage crisis last year involving Sabaya's group, the Abu Sayyaf, that ended with the reported payment of millions of dollars in ransoms. Sabaya earlier demanded the two Malaysians get involved, and had threatened to kill Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., otherwise. Faced with a Sabaya-imposed deadline two weeks ago, the government agreed to allow one — but Sabaya claimed he killed Sobero the next day after troops clashed with his men.

Warns of More Beheadings

On Monday, he warned of more beheadings, including that of Martin Burnham, who is being held with wife Gracia, both 41, of Wichita, Kan. Sabaya claimed the beheadings could spread the Muslim insurgency under way in the southern Philippines to Malaysia and beyond. "I'm saying our demand is not money," Sabaya said. "If we chop off the heads of people like Mr. Burnham, the Americans would intervene, and so would the Arabs and (Osama) bin Laden's groups. What will happen then to the Philippines?" The Philippine government has said the Abu Sayyaf gets at least some backing from Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi accused of masterminding terrorist attacks. "The main reason here is freedom. Our other demands we will disclose through the negotiators," Sabaya said. "If it was only for money, we made money from Sipadan," he added, referring to the abduction 21 people, including 10 foreigners, from a Malaysian dive resort in April 2000. "Our principles are more expensive."

Families as Weakness?

Asked if he would demand the release of Hector Janjalani, the brother of Abu Sayyaf co-founder Khaddafy Janjalani, who is jailed in Manila, Sabaya said: "Not necessarily. The government would always snatch our families. That would be interpreted as one of our weaknesses." Sabaya said he could not put any of the hostages on the phone because he had climbed a mountain to get better reception for the call. He traditionally has telephoned Radio Mindanao Network to make statements, but the government has discouraged the station from airing his comments as part of a news blackout. The military said Monday that troops clashed briefly Sunday with the Muslim extremists, but there was no sign of the captives. It was the first contact with the Abu Sayyaf in more than a week, and the military said it was meant to divert them from the main guerrilla group holding the hostages. About 20 people, including the three Americans, were seized from a beach resort across the Sulu Sea on May 27 and taken by speedboat to Basilan, nearly 300 miles away. Later, the rebels seized other hostages at the coconut plantation and a hospital they briefly occupied.

Hostages Are 'OK'

"They're OK," Sabaya said of the hostages. "We have divided them into different groups." Three Filipino hostages were released June 14 with a letter for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo demanding an end to the military offensive in return for the release of some captives. Arroyo, who has offered $2 million for the capture of Abu Sayyaf leaders, rejected the offer. She said Abu Sayyaf leaders had only two choices: surrender or die. But "that has no effect, her threats of us being pulverized," Sabaya said. Even with their deaths, the group would live on, he said. He also questioned whether another Abu Sayyaf leader, known as Commander Robot, would carry through with his announced plans to surrender with 17 of his sub-commanders.