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Details Emerge on Abu Sayyaf Beheading

April 20, 2004 GMT

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Maria Fe Rosadeno huddled with the other hostages in a small hut, as their Muslim extremist guards led her American fiance away into the jungle, his hands bound behind his back. It was the last time they saw him. Guillermo Sobero was beheaded in 2001 by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The details of his death are just now becoming known as witnesses emerge _ some from government protection programs _ to identify their captors.

Rosadeno recalls hearing his voice ringing out in the night as he exclaimed, ``Jesus!″ Fellow captives tried to reassure Rosadeno that her fiance probably had just stumbled and would be back soon.

Four months later, still being dragged around Basilan island’s rugged terrain by Abu Sayyaf, the hostages heard on the radio that Sobero’s remains had been found.

The Muslim extremist group is notorious for kidnapping and beheading hostages and is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

Rosadeno and other survivors of the yearlong ordeal that began when they were snatched from their bungalows at a resort on May 27, 2001, gathered this month to identify _ and confront _ their former captors.

Another former hostage Angie Montealegre, grim and silent, slapped the faces of Alhamser Manatad Limbong _ who allegedly held down Sobero as he was beheaded _ and another Abu Sayyaf member. The image was broadcast repeatedly on national television.

The two Abu Sayyaf members were among six alleged members of a terrorist cell, captured in late March with 80 pounds of TNT purportedly targeted for attacks in Manila.

The captives’ rage was still clear as five of them spoke to The Associated Press afterward.

Rosadeno said when she and the other hostages were asked days earlier to identify the arrested suspects behind closed doors, she saw Limbong staring at her with a smirk on his face.

``I told him: `How are you?.. You’re also going to die,‴ Rosadeno said. ``Then I saw his face turn grim.″

``I hope they’ll kill him immediately,″ she added. ``He’s a killer; he’s merciless. If he regains his freedom, he’ll kill more people.″

Sobero, 40, of Corona, Calif., had come to the Philippines to see his fiancee and go diving.

He and two other Americans _ missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham from Wichita, Kan. _ and 17 Filipinos were snatched from their bungalows at the upscale Dos Palmas resort on Palawan island at dawn and taken by speedboat to Basilan.

The island is an Abu Sayyaf stronghold in the impoverished south, home to a Muslim minority in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

It was the Abu Sayyaf’s second mass kidnapping. Westerners and Malaysians snatched from a Malaysian dive resort had earned the group millions of dollars in ransoms a year earlier.

Rosadeno said Sobero, who loved to cook and eat and promised fellow hostages he would make them lamb stew after they were freed, once jokingly warned her against backing out of their wedding because he already had suffered so much. He also spoke of someday going hiking with her, ``but not this way, not by force and not without food.″

The guerrillas raided a hospital for medical supplies and nurses to treat their wounded from running clashes in the jungle with their military pursuers.

Sobero suffered a shrapnel wound on his leg when a grenade exploded during a military siege on the hospital.

Rosadeno recalled that Sobero broke down at one point, fearful that they would die. But the rebels escaped from the hospital, their hostages in tow.

Rosadeno said that on her last day with Sobero, they arrived at the hut at nightfall.

``I gave him a clean T-shirt because we were very dirty at the time,″ she said. ``Then after a few minutes... Abu Haija came and tied his hands behind his back.″

Rosadeno said they begged their captor not to bind Sobero’s hands because it would be very uncomfortable, but Haija said he was acting on instructions from the ``Emir″ _ Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani.

Rosadeno said she initially was told after Sobero’s disappearance that he was with about 20 Abu Sayyaf members who separated from their group to elude government forces. She learned nearly a month later from Abu Sayyaf senior leader Abu Sabaya that he had been beheaded by Abu Sayyaf member Abu Haija the night he was taken away as Limbong held him down.

Sabaya had called it an ``Independence Day gift″ to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after she ignored his demands to negotiate.

Rosadeno said she was freed along with six other Filipinos on Nov. 14, 2001, after payment of ransom. She said she was not aware of the ransom terms.

On June 7, 2002, U.S.-trained troops freed Gracia Burnham after 377 days in captivity, but her husband, Martin, and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were killed during the shootout with their captors.

Soon afterward, Sabaya was killed in a firefight at sea; his body was never recovered. U.S.-backed military operations reportedly decimated the rebels, but they still are capable of death and destruction.

Limbong was arrested with the TNT, which officials say was to have been used on malls, trains and U.S. and Israeli embassies. Another of the detained men reportedly confessed he put explosives in a TV set and detonated it on a ferry a month ago, killing more than 100 people. There has been no official determination yet what caused the blast and ensuing fire.