Rebels who clashed with Philippine troops on the island of Jolo this week have threatened to behead one of two European hostages, including a Swiss.
Militants from the Abu Sayyaf captured three workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in January. They include a Swiss national, Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Mary Jean Lacaba of the Philippines.
The death threat came on Wednesday after marines clashed with the rebels in intense jungle fighting earlier this week. Abu Sayyaf militiamen had attempted to break through an area the military had cordoned off. Nine people, including three soldiers, were killed in the fighting that left nearly 20 people injured.
"Remember, if they pursue the operations and they come close to us and another firefight erupts, I will behead one of the European ICRC hostages," Albader Parad, the leader of the rebels, told a radio reporter.
Richard Gordon, head of the local chapter of the Red Cross, said he had been in contact with Parad. The hostages were still alive after the gun battle, which lasted for two days.
"They are alive, they are very, very tired and very sleepy," Gordon said. "They were running all over the place."
Abu Sayyaf has demanded that the military leave as a condition for freeing the hostages. The military has rejected the demand. In 2001 an American was beheaded by another group of Abu Sayyaf rebels after Manila refused a prisoner exchange.
Anastasia Isyuk, a spokeswoman for the ICRC in Manila, appealed to those involved to "consider the safety of our colleagues" and to establish direct contact with the workers as soon as possible.