Army turns up heat on Abu Sayyaf
JOLO, Philippines -- The Philippine army is responding to the execution of two people by extremist Muslim militants with heavy shelling of their jungle camps on the remote island of Jolo in the south of the country.
Hundreds of extra troops have been sent to the island as the government intensifies its campaign to crush the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the wake of the latest kidnappings.
Earlier Thursday the severed heads of two men were discovered as the military stepped up its search for six hostages taken captive by Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Tuesday.
Three Philippine military battalions have been stationed on the island since the kidnappings were first reported, trying to locate and rescue the hostages.
All six hostages, including the two dead men, are thought to have been door-to-door cosmetics sellers and some were Jehovah's Witnesses.
Philippine officials have told CNN the victims apparently ignored warnings not to venture into the remote area.
One of the severed heads had a note taped to it reading: "This is what happens to those who don't believe in Allah."
"They are showing their crusade not to allow Christians to enter their community," said Brigadier Gen. Romeo Tolentino, head of the Philippine army.
Two other hostages -- both Muslims -- were earlier freed but the four women are still in captivity, he added.
Both the dead have been identified by their families.
It was initially unclear if the Abu Sayyaf, which has a history of kidnap for ransom, was behind the latest hostage takings.
However, on Thursday, Col. Renaldo Detabali of the Southern Command, in charge of military operations in the southern Philippines, said there was no doubt that the group was responsible.
Jolo, known as an Abu Sayyaf stronghold but also home to other Muslim guerrilla groups, is about 560 miles (900 kilometers) south of the capital, Manila.
In April 2000, 21 people -- 10 tourists and 11 resort workers -- were kidnapped from a Malaysian diving resort by Abu Sayyaf gunmen and taken to Jolo.
All but one were eventually released after ransom was paid.
The latest kidnappings are the first carried out by the group since some 1,200 American troops arrived in the southern Philippines in January to aid a military offensive against the militants.
The majority of U.S. Special Forces deployed to the area left about three weeks ago, although several hundred troops remain on the nearby island of Basilan carrying out infrastructure projects and medical assistance work.
In June this year, Philippine troops trained by U.S. advisors stormed an Abu Sayyaf jungle camp in an effort to rescue two Americans and a Filipino nurse being held hostage by the group.
The nurse and one of the Americans was killed in the rescue attempt, although the other hostage, U.S. missionary Gracia Burnham escaped with only minor injuries.
Since then the Philippine government, led by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has vowed an all-out effort to crush the Abu Sayyaf.
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