• Bandits slip past naval blockade

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    SAMAL ISLAND: Gunmen holding three foreigners and one Filipina hostage slipped past a naval blockade and escaped to remote mountains, leaving few clues to their identities, police said on Wednesday.

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    Elite Army troops were trying to track the bandits while Air Force helicopters were readied for a possible rescue as the gunmen trekked into Davao Oriental, a hotbed of Maoist and Islamic rebels, said Senior Supt. Aaron Aquino, the region’s deputy police commander.

    At least 11 gunmen seized the Norwegian manager of Holiday Ocean View, a luxury island resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte on Monday night, along with two Canadian tourists and one of their local girlfriends. The victims were aboard yachts anchored at the resort’s marina.

    The resort has not issued any statement and its website — www.holidayoceanview.com — was hacked and its page redirected to a Japanese porn site.

    The abductions added to a string of kidnappings of foreigners and locals in the conflict-plagued South since the 1990s that have been typically carried out by Islamic militants seeking to extort ransoms.

    “Rest assured, our security sector will not stop until they catch this group,” President Benigno Aquino 3rd told reporters.

    The President’s assurance echoed comments made by the nation’s leaders whenever a foreigner has been kidnapped but the captives’ releases have generally only been secured with ransom payments.

    Adding to concerns about the captives, police said on Wednesday was that the gunmen had evaded a naval blockade around Samal Island, where the abductions took place.

    The gunmen had sailed about 50 kilometers east to Davao Oriental.

    “Our Scout Rangers are following their tracks. They are on their trail. The Air Force is also helping, ready for insertion,” Supt. Aquino told radio station dzBB.

    He said “intelligence” sources had informed police that the gunmen reached Davao Oriental on Tuesday night but he acknowledged that authorities still did not know the gunmen’s identities or motives.

    “We are waiting for contact from the kidnappers so we will know their demands,” the police official added.

    Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, were among those abducted, police said.

    The other foreigner was the Norwegian resort manager, Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, and the local woman was Hall’s 40-year-old Filipina girlfriend, identified only as Teresita Floor.

    “All efforts are currently being exhausted by the military and police to locate and establish the identities of the abductors,” said Marine Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command.

    “We have dispatched Navy units for maritime interdiction along possible routes and have intensified our intelligence monitoring to locate the group and the victims in coordination with the Eastern Mindanao Command,” Muyuela added, quoting a statement by Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

    Chilling footage
    Chilling footage from the resort’s surveillance cameras emerged on Wednesday showing the gunmen walking their hostages along a jetty at the marina.

    In the footage, broadcast by local television networks, a shirtless and bearded male hostage was seen shaking off the grip on his arm of one of the rifle-wielding men, but still not daring to try and run away.

    The three others appeared to have been hauled from their beds, with one male hostage shirtless and with a blanket wrapped around his waist. The woman walking next to him was in a night gown.

    The gunmen also left a note that reads “Katarungan sa aming commander (Justice for our commander).”

    Investigators said they were looking at the possible involvement of communist guerillas or breakaway Islamic rebels excluded from the 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, according to police.

    Supt. Aquino said he doubted the involvement of the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group responsible for the bulk of the kidnappings-for-ransom of foreigners since the early 1990s.

    The outriggers used to storm the marina on Samal Island were not a “signature” of the al-Qaeda-linked group, because it typically used high-speed boats, he explained.

    The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding four other foreigners—a Dutch man, a South Korean and two Malaysians, according to the military.

    Prior to the incident, the military said they received an intelligence report earlier this month that the Abu Sayyaf will stage kidnapping operations in Davao, a source of The Manila Times said

    “We received the report on the first week of September, that the Abu Sayyaf will kidnap somebody. We forwarded the report to higher headquarters on September 6,” the source, a military officer, said.

    The source, quoting the report, said two suspected Abu Sayyaf members went to the resort as an “advance party.” They allegedly passed themselves off as local tourists.

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