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4 kidnapped in Samal resort

Photo shows the compound of the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort on Samal Island yesterday, a day after unidentified gunmen kidnapped three foreigners and a Filipina. Inset photos show kidnapped foreigners (clockwise from left) Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sikkengstad, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall. AP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Unidentified gunmen snatched three foreigners and a Filipino woman from an island resort off Davao City late Monday.

Southern Mindanao regional police director Chief Superintendent Wendy Rosario said armed men kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina at the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort at Barangay Camudmud in Samal Island.

The Canadians were identified as John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50. Norwegian Kjartan Sikkengstad, 56, was operations manager at the resort while the 40-year-old Filipina identified as Maritess Flor was a companion of one of the kidnapped foreigners.

The gunmen seized their captives from aboard yachts and reportedly brought them towards Pantukan in Compostela Valley.

Regional police spokesman Supt. Antonio Rivera said the gunmen also tried to seize a Japanese couple from one of the yachts docked at the resort, but they resisted and escaped by jumping off the boat. He said the couple suffered minor injuries.

Rivera said some 11 gunmen in two motorized outriggers were involved in the abduction.

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Law enforcement boats and helicopters were scouring the waters around the island on Tuesday to try to stop the kidnappers from leaving the area, according to Rivera.

“They appeared to target the foreigners. They went straight for the yachts,” Rivera told AFP.

“(But) we still don’t have anything. We’re blank. No group has taken responsibility and there is no demand for ransom.”

Authorities initially suspected the Abu Sayyaf militants were behind the kidnapping.

In 2001, the Abu Sayyaf tried but failed to kidnap foreign tourists on Samal Island’s Pearl Farm resort. Three security men died fighting the attackers.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, however, said there has been no report of the gunmen and their captives heading to the suspected lairs of the Abu Sayyaf in the islands of Basilan and Sulu.

Regional military spokesman Capt. June Cerbo said the Westmincom had alerted their forces to be on the lookout for the gunmen.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu (JTGS) said troops in Sulu were advised that the gunmen might have slipped into the mainland.

“All efforts have been coordinated by the Westmincom to the Eastmincom (Eastern Mindanao Command) in tracking the location of the victims and the suspects,” Arrojado said.

Eastmincom spokesman Capt. Alberto Caber said the four were taken at gunpoint selectively even while there were about 30 foreigners staying at the resort during the raid.

Caber said the initial report showed around 20 heavily men swooped down the resort in coordination.

“Four people were taken but we do not know what group was behind the attack. It appeared the foreigners were the targets, they were not taken at random,” he said.

“Accordingly, the kidnappers spoke clear English and Tagalog and seemed to have specific target which are the Norwegian resort manager and the two Canadians,” Caber added.

Caber said earlier that two Japanese tried to intervene in the abduction but it was unclear whether they were actually the couple on the yacht.

Rosario added the gunmen initially seized a couple, a Canadian identified only as Steven and his Japanese wife, Kazuka, but they were able to escape by jumping overboard.

“It seems that the suspects were not interested in the couple and that they were looking for a target, perhaps, the captives,” Rosario added. 

Caber, on the other hand, said authorities have no immediate suspects but sources from the military noted the abduction was well planned.

“And we could only surmise that somebody funded this criminal act. If that is the case, then the abductors have already established several points where they can initially keep their victims before transferring them to their main safehouse,” a military official said.

A note was reportedly left by the gate near the docking area of the yacht club which read “Katarungan sa aming COMMANDER – by NPA,” (Justice for our commander), apparently referring to the communist New People’s Army rebels,  active in eastern and northern Mindanao.

However, authorities have yet to ascertain if the NPA was behind the kidnapping as no group has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction. 

The government has created an interagency task force, composed of the police, the military and the Davao City government with Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as chairman of the Southern Mindanao regional peace and order council, to hunt down the kidnappers.

Condemnation

Malacañang said President Aquino is personally monitoring the situation as security forces have fanned out looking for the possible whereabouts of the kidnappers.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Philippine National Police (PNP) had not reported any leads as to who were responsible after an initial investigation.

He said the PNP was doing what was appropriate and following protocol, including coordination with the embassies concerned and their relatives.

The Canadian and Norwegian embassies in Manila, however, declined to comment.

A Norwegian foreign ministry spokeswoman in Oslo, Lothe Salvesen, said the government was investigating the report, but could not confirm any details.

Samal island, a short boat ride from the southern commercial center of Davao on Mindanao island, is famed for powdery white sand beaches and dive spots, with resorts charging up to $500 a night.

The area, about 800 kilometers southeast of Manila, is a popular stop for foreign tourists who sail around the nation’s many tropical islands.

But the Philippines’ southern region has endured decades of conflict, with Muslim rebels waging a separatist conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

In the most recent kidnapping of foreigners, Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized a German couple in April last year while they were sailing off the far southwestern island of Palawan, a popular tourist destination.

The couple was released six months later, with the Abu Sayyaf claiming it had received all of the P250 million it demanded in ransom.

The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding nine hostages, including four foreigners, in the jungles of Jolo island in Mindanao’s southwest, a local military spokesman said.– Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño, Aurea Calica, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Reuters, AP

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