MANILA, Philippines -- The military Saturday attacked Muslim extremists who said they beheaded two of their 29 hostages after the government ignored demands for the release of Arab terrorists, including the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing.
In response, the Abu Sayyaf rebels warned that they might begin beheading their remaining five male hostages, including a priest, today if the military operations are not halted.
About 500 soldiers were fighting an estimated 230 to 250 rebels in the assault, Chief of staff Gen. Angelo Reyes said. He denied a claim by the rebels that they had shot down a military helicopter, but said he was unsure whether reports of nine government fatalities were correct.
The hostages have been held since March 20 in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf have said its members beheaded two male teachers Wednesday.
Reyes said the decision to attack the rebel camp in Sumisip was made by a provincial crisis management committee that has handled the hostage negotiations. The committee's spokesman, Chris Puno, said the beheadings left officials ''with no option but to resort to a military operation.''
Rebel spokesman Abu Ahmad said the hostages remained in good condition, but that the rebels would begin beheading the remaining adult males as soon as Sunday if the rescue attempt continues.
''After the operation, let (the military) come to get the heads of each of the male hostages, including the priest,'' he said.
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