Al Qaeda-linked militants behead 7


Apr 19, 2007

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- The heads of seven men believed to have been kidnapped by the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on a volatile southern island were delivered to a Philippine army detachment Thursday, the military said.

The men -- six road project workers and a dried-fish factory worker -- were kidnapped at gunpoint in two separate incidents Monday near the town of Parang on Jolo island, where U.S. troops have been involved in counterterrorism training and campaigns to draw local support away from Muslim rebels.

Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael, commander of military forces on Jolo, said a group of civilians was ordered to take the heads to Parang by Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, who operates in Jolo's mountainous forests.

Jolo Gov. Ben Loong and other officials confirmed the grisly delivery.

"This is a retaliation for the killing of one of their commanders," Rafael said. "This is a terrorist act that should be condemned by all."

He said the company which employed the road workers had refused to pay a ransom demanded by the rebel leader.

The Abu Sayyaf has not issued any statements claiming responsibility for the kidnappings or beheadings. The delivery people were told to tell the military that it was retaliation for the death of the commanders, Rafael said.

The Abu Sayyaf is on a list of U.S. terrorist groups and has a reputation for bombings, mass abductions and beheadings in the Philippines. It has been the target of a massive U.S.-backed military offensive on Jolo that started in August and has resulted in the deaths of its top two leaders.

Loong has said the kidnappings show that Abu Sayyaf remains capable of banditry and terrorist acts despite a number of battlefield losses.

He said it was unclear whether the kidnappings were intended to divert troops who are hunting Muslim rebel commander Habier Malik and his men from the Moro National Liberation Front.

The MNLF was the largest Muslim separatist group in the southern Philippines until it signed a 1996 peace pact with the government. Many of its commanders, including Malik, refused to disarm and continued to maintain strongholds on Jolo and nearby islands.

Military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said Malik has provided sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and Indonesian militants who have been targeted by the U.S.-backed offensive. Malik was blamed for deadly mortar attacks in Jolo last week.

An estimated 300 to 400 Abu Sayyaf gunmen remain at large on Jolo, about 600 miles south of Manila. Washington has offered large rewards for the capture of the Abu Sayyaf's top commanders.