‘Taken to Sulu’

Military says boat used to ferry Samal hostages

THE military bolstered fears on Saturday that the four foreigners and a Filipino who were kidnapped from a Samal Island resort on Sept. 21 has slipped a security dragnet in Eastern Mindanao and are now in Western Mindanao.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of Joint Task Group Sulu, said the authorities found a boat they suspect was used by kidnappers to take the victims to an island stronghold of Islamic militants.

The outrigger boat was found Friday on Jolo, more than 500 kilometers southwest of the Samal Island resort where two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were abducted late Monday, Arrojado said.

Jolo is the main base of the Abu Sayyaf, an Al-Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for the Asian country’s deadliest terror attacks as well as ransom kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.

“We have eyeballed the seacraft, but not the kidnap victims from Samal,” Arrojado, head of a Jolo counter-terrorism task force, told reporters.

Officials would not say if the discovery pointed to possible Abu Sayyaf involvement in the kidnapping of Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend, Marites Flor.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abductions, the latest in Mindanao, a southern region plagued by decades of Muslim as well as communist insurgencies.

Arrojado said the 25-meter (82-foot) boat suspected of taking the hostages to Jolo was found abandoned at Parang, a coastal town.

It was fitted with two onboard engines, but was taking in water apparently from a breach on its hull, he added.

Regional police spokesman Antonio Rivera told AFP that of all the “threat groups” in the south, those based on Jolo were the ones most skilled in using boats.

However, he added: “We cannot say that they [Abu Sayyaf] are involved at this time.”

The authorities earlier said they had received reports the kidnappers had taken their victims to the impoverished Davao Oriental region to the east of Samal.

However, Rivera told AFP Saturday “no boat was seen there [Davao Oriental] contrary to what was earlier reported.”

Jolo-based Abu Sayyaf and several other renegade Muslim rebel groups have in recent years collaborated in kidnapping foreigners elsewhere in the south, with the victims eventually taken to back to Jolo, security analyst Rodolfo Mendoza told AFP.

“They have done it not only on western Mindanao [including Jolo] but they are now also doing it on the eastern Mindanao side,” said Mendoza, president of the Manila think tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism.

Supporting the theory that the kidnappers and their victims are now in Western Mindanao, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he received information that the hostages were taken from Holiday Ocean Resort on a pumpboat and were transferred to a larger and faster motorized boat.

The mayor said the group passed by Glan, Sarangani and from there, took only six hours to reach Sulu.

The pumpboats were found Tuesday, hundreds of kilometers southeast of the Davao Oriental province. Duterte declined to identify the group responsible for taking the four tourists at gunpoint.

He instead said that the armed men may be linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group as one of them appears to resemble a known member of the terror group, based on the resort’s closed-circuit television footage.

“They [victims] were delivered to a known Abu Sayyaf Group. Whether they are also actually Abu Sayyaf members, that we do not know. Ganyan ‘yan eh, ipasa-pasa na ‘yan, so as they are passed on to a new group, lalaki nang lalaki yung patong nila sa ransom,” Duterte said.

Duterte believes it is probable that the abduction had been deliberate and that the suspects knew their target.

“We have this hanging suspicion that the hostages are pre-determined victims,” he said. With AFP

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