Rebel leader threatens to behead more hostages

A Muslim extremist leader responsible for the abduction of dozens of hostages threatened today to kill more of them if the Philippine government does not accept his choice of negotiators.

A Muslim extremist leader responsible for the abduction of dozens of hostages threatened today to kill more of them if the Philippine Government does not accept his choice of negotiators.

Speaking by satellite telephone from the jungles of Basilan island in the southern Philippines, Abu Sabaya said 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.

But the Malaysians said they do not want to get involved further.

Today Sabaya warned he would behead more hostages, including American Martin Burnham, who is being held with his wife, Gracia. That, he claimed, could spread the influence of the Muslim insurgency currently under way in the southern Philippines to other countries.

‘‘I’m saying our demand is not money,’’ Sabaya. ‘‘If we chop off the heads of people like Mr Burnham, the Americans would intervene, and so would the Arabs and bin Laden’s groups. What will happen then to the Philippines?’’

The Philippine Government has said Abu Sayyaf gets at least some backing from Osama bin Ladan, the wealthy Saudi accused of masterminding terrorist attacks from bases in Afghanistan.

‘‘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 said, referring to the abduction of 21 people, including 10 foreigners, from a Malaysian dive resort in April 2000. ‘‘Our principles are more expensive.’’

Referring to the hostages in the current month-long crisis, Sabaya said: ‘‘They’re OK. We have divided them into different groups.’’

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has offered two million dollars (£1.4m) in reward for the capture of Abu Sayyaf leaders and has said they have only two choices: surrender or die.

‘‘That has no effect, her threats of us being pulverised,’’ Sabaya said. ‘‘Even if I die, or Khaddafy dies ... the group lives on.’’

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