The Philippine government said Wednesday it was trying to rescue three foreigners and a Filipina kidnapped from a southern island resort, after the captives appealed for help in a video posted online, agencies report.
“The government’s aim is to ensure their safety and secure their release and all actions emanate from this,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr. said Wednesday in response to the video.
Canadians John Ridsdel, 68 and Robert Hall, 50, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, and Hall’s girlfriend Marites Flor were taken at gunpoint from a resort in Samal Island in Davao del Norte on September 21.
The video showed them sitting on the ground with 12 armed men standing over them.
“To my family and friends, I’m okay but I’m in grave danger,” Hall said.
Ridsdel asked the Canadian government to “please, please help us.” He also urged the Philippine government to stop all military operations around the kidnappers’ base.
One of the gunmen, with a scarf and sunglasses covering his face, said in English that negotiations over their demands could start once authorities “have met the requirements.”
Army Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said the military would reject any demands from the militants.
Arrojado, who has been leading months of offensives against Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province about 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila, said the assaults would not stop.
“Our mandate is to go after the enemies of the state,” Arrojado said by phone.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said two small groups within the Abu Sayyaf Islamist group were responsible for the kidnapping. The military and police have not officially confirmed that version. Abu Sayyaf has a long history of kidnapping foreigners and local people for ransom.
Two government experts said intelligence received by the military and police indicated the involvement of an Abu Sayyaf commander, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, in the Samal kidnappings.
Sawadjaan, who is based in the mountains of Sulu’s Patikul town, was also implicated in the kidnappings of two German tourists last year. Sawadjaan’s group posted a video of the Germans, who were later freed, reportedly in exchange for a large ransom.
The two experts, one from the army and the other with an anti-terror agency, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The video was the first indication of what happened to the abducted four and that they were still alive.
Following the kidnappings, Philippine authorities vowed to strengthen security in the south. But three weeks later, gunmen abducted a former Italian Catholic missionary from his pizza restaurant in southern Zamboanga Sibugay province.