Muslim extremists behead two captive Jehovah's Witnesses in southern Philippines
By ZENY MASONG Associated Press Writer
JOLO, Philippines, Aug 21, 2002 (AP WorldStream via COMTEX) -- Muslim extremists beheaded at least two of the six Jehovah's Witnesses they kidnapped in the southern Philippines and dumped their heads in a public market, authorities said Thursday.
Brig. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, commander of the army on the southern island of Jolo, said authorities found the heads of the two male hostages in an open air market in Jolo town along with notes calling for a holy war.
The two men were abducted Tuesday with four women as the group sold Avon cosmetics and visited homes around the town of Patikul in the south of the predominantly Muslim island of Jolo.
All hostages were Filipinos, mostly poor people from the nearby city of Zamboanga, on the main Philippine southern island of Mindanao.
Officials identified the two dead men as 21-year-old Lemuel Bantolo and Leonel Mantic, of an unknown age, both from Zamboanga.
Mantic's 23-year-old wife, Emily, was still apparently captive along with Cleofe Bantolo, 46, Flora Bantolo, 40, and 41-year-old Nori Bendijo.
The relationship between the captive Bantolos and the dead man wasn't immediately known.
Tolentino said one head was left in a cloth bag in a Jolo town market with an attached note referring to "infidels" and speaking of a holy war, or "jihad." Another head was left in a plastic bag in the market with a similar note, he said.
Police and military officials say the kidnapping was carried out by Muin Maulod Sahiron, a nephew of Radullan Sahiron who heads the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group in the area.
The kidnappings Tuesday were the first on the troubled island of Jolo since the United States began supporting a Philippines military campaign to wipe out the al-Qaida-linked group seven months ago in the middle of a yearlong mass kidnapping that included three American captives.
Philippine troops responded by shelling Abu Sayyaf positions and searching for the gang.
Sulu provincial police chief Col. Ahiron Ajirim reported two men with pistols stopped a jeep carrying the Jehovah's witnesses and forced them out Tuesday afternoon. He said the driver was left behind in the rural area of Jolo island, about 900 kilometers (600 miles) south of Manila.
Avon supplies were found abandoned in the jeep but officials said the victims may also have been trying to spread their religion.
The Abu Sayyaf has often kidnapped for ransom but more frequently has abducted poor Filipinos, mostly Christians, to serve for weeks or months as slave labor.
Most hostages have been released, but more than a dozen have been killed in the past year, many beheaded. The group also has kidnapped women to force them to marry guerrillas.
For six months from February, about 1,200 U.S. troops trained and provided logistical and intelligence support for the Philippine army's push to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf.
The U.S. program ended officially three weeks ago, although a few Americans remained on Basilan island, which neighbors Jolo, to finish infrastructure projects.
The last Abu Sayyaf kidnapping spree ended in June when U.S.-trained soldiers, helped by U.S. surveillance and communications, tracked down rebels holding the last of 102 captives: American missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.
On June 7, soldiers rescued Mrs. Burnham, but her husband and Yap were killed. The Abu Sayyaf leader who led those kidnappings was believed killed with two of his men in a clash at sea two weeks later.
A Filipino man, Roland Ullah, is still being held from another Abu Sayyaf mass kidnapping two years ago from a tourist resort in Malaysia.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press, All rights reserved
These evil people just screwed up royally.