American hostage Guillermo Sobero was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf in a macabre ceremony called 'ribbon-cutting', according to a source close to the hostage takers.

The incident allegedly took place in the town of Tuburan, in Basilan, southern Philippines on June 11. "The beheading ceremony was mentioned by Abu Sayyaf leader Khadafi Janjalani in a letter sent recently through a freed hostage to the presidential palace," said Hector Janjalani, Khadafi's younger brother, who has been imprisoned in Quezon City since last year.

"The ribbon cutting ceremony is a term often used by the group for the beheading of hostages," explained the younger Janjalani. Armed Forces Spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said the government has tasked volunteers and local government officials with locating Sobero's headless corpse.

"The military will focus on a major rescue operation soon in Basilan," said Adan, adding that Hector Janjalani's revelations have effectively 'sealed the final fate' of Sobero.

Sobero's Filipina girlfriend Marife Rosadena, two other American nationals and 16 Filipinos were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan on May 27. Sobero is married to Fanny with whom he has four children, aged 13, six, three, and two, all resident in California.

Former transport undersecretary, Francis Ganzon, who was freed recently, said he personally noticed how Sobero was wounded in the foot when the Abu Sayyaf and the military clashed in Lamitan on June 2.

Later, Sobero could no longer walk and the Abu Sayyaf had to hogtie him as they escaped from pursuing military men. But he was killed on June 12, as declared by Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya, Ganzon narrated.

Earlier reports said Sobero and two other American hostages were taken to Jolo, leaving the rest of the group's hostages in Basilan. Another report said Sobero had called up a radio station in the US to say he was very much alive.

Al Jacinto adds from Zamboanga: Government forces recovered three heads yesterday believed to be those of missing soldiers killed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the jungle of Tuburan town in Basilan province.

Brig. Gen. Romeo Dominguez, in charge of military operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, said: "Troops recovered the heads belonging to government soldiers. Their bodies are still missing and the soldiers are searching for them in the hinterlands. They belong to Filipinos."

Dominguez said those beheaded were actually soldiers killed in action. He said the heads were handed over to the soldiers' families. No other details were made available by the army.