Video confirms beheading
The Philippines and Canada have condemned the killing of Robert Hall, whose head was recovered in front of the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu late Monday.
An Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) video seen by The Manila Times showed the beheading of the Canadian hostage by a member of the militant group.
The video also showed Hall being made to kneel by his captors before he was executed.
Malacañang expressed outrage over the “brutal and senseless murder” of Hall and extended its deep sympathies to the family of the victim.
“We truly regret that our people’s cherished tradition of extending gracious hospitality toward foreign nationals has been marred by a small band of criminals whose despicable actions have been abetted by the extortion of ransom from their previous victims,” Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
Hall was the second Canadian beheaded by the bandits. John Ridsdel was the fist to be killed by the Abu Sayyaf Group in April when its demand for a P300-million ransom was not met.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed outrage while maintaining that ransoms should not be paid.
“The vicious and brutal actions of the hostage-takers have led to a needless death. Canada holds the terrorist group who took him hostage fully responsible for this cold-blooded and senseless murder,” Trudeau said.
The fates of the two other people abducted at the resort on Samal island late last year–Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor and Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad–were not known.
The ASG had asked for ₱300 million for each of the remaining three hostages–Hall, Sekkingstad and Flor.
Coloma said the brutality of the group has compelled the military and police to step up its efforts to find them for the past two months.
“The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and the PNP [Philippine National Police] have waged continuing military and law enforcement operations that have degraded the capability of our enemies and limited their movements. This latest heinous crime serves to strengthen our government’s resolve to put an end to this reign of terror and banditry,” he added.
Hall’s severed head was found by residents of Jolo, Sulu, on Monday evening, hours after the ASG announced that it had killed the Canadian hostage.
The PNP conducted forensic tests to identify the victim.
Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the head, placed in a plastic bag, was left by two motorcycle-riding men in front of the Jolo Cathedral at about 8:45 p.m.
It was not known why the police and military failed to arrest those who dumped the head in Jolo despite the huge presence of security forces in the town.
Tan said a small military unit has been deployed to recover Hall’s body.
The Abu Sayyaf had threatened to kill one of its hostages if its demand for a P600-million ransom was not paid by 3 p.m. on Monday.
Tan said the Westmincom intensified operations in hunting down the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and strengthened its intelligence gathering to pinpoint the exact location of the group’s remaining hostages.
He described Sulu province as a virtual “marketplace” of soldiers because of the huge number of troops deployed to the area.
But despite the large number of government troops, Tan admitted that security forces are having a hard time tracking down the bandits.
“The vegetation in the area is dense. So we have to find ways where to pass where we could not be detected. On the mastery of terrain, even if you blindfold them they knew how many steps it would take to reach a certain area. Another factor is their relatives. They will hide their guns and just blend with the populace and that’s it,” Tan said.
The PNP confirmed that forensic experts are conducting tests to identify the victim.
Chief Supt. Emmanuel Aranas, the director of the PNP Crime Laboratory Service, said the head was flown to Manila from Jolo early Tuesday.
“Our personnel took some specimen to be used for the necessary testing and examination.
We are exhausting all means to identify the recovered severed head,” Aranas told reporters.
He said experts will be able to establish the victim’s identity through a DNA test.
The police official conceded that it will take time for them to establish the identity of the victim unless the torso is found.
“We are now communicating with the Canadian Embassy,” Aranas said.
Tan, however, said that based on initial reports of their personnel on the ground, there is a strong possibility that the recovered head belongs to Hall.
“This has to be confirmed by the result of the examination to be conducted by the Crime Laboratory Service,” he added.
Hall, John Ridsdel, Norwegian Sekkingstad and Flor, were abducted in September 2015 at the Ocean View Samal Resort managed by Hall in Barangay Camudmud, Island Garden City of Samal and were brought to Sulu.
Ridsdel was beheaded in April when the Abu Sayyaf’s demand for a P300-million ransom was not paid.
In Canada, Trudeau praised Hall’s family for their strength of character in their resilience in the face of what he described as a terrible situation.
“This is a grievous loss for them, and their country mourns with them,” he said in a brief news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons, according to Canada’s CBC News.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is “deeply outraged” by the execution of another hostage of the bandit group.
It added that the killing was an attempt “to sow fear and terror” in the country.
In a statement, the DFA described the beheading as “inhuman and cruel.”
“We strongly reiterate that the Philippine government does not tolerate, nor does it negotiate with, terrorists. We reiterate our utmost opposition to terrorism in all its forms,” it said.
“The department extends its deep condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Robert Hall, and joins the government and people of Canada in grieving his untimely passing,” the DFA added.
Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also denounced the killing.
“It has only been a week since Ramadan began, and it is appalling that this holy month we set aside for prayer and reflection has already been violated by extremists here and abroad, as they wage violence in the name of our faith,” he said.
Hataman added that the extremists claim to follow the faith while they go against Islam’s message of peace and humanity.
“Violence cannot and must not be so easily associated with one people, race or culture.
Many try to distort the Islam we know by heart, and it is our responsibility to make the truth of Islam known to people. Those who tread the path of violence and claim to do it in the name of Islam are, without question, merely men of sin who distort a faith that stands for peace,” he said.
Tan added that the ASG is still holding six other hostages–Dutch birdwatcher Ewold Horn and five Filipinos.
WITH ANTHONY VARGAS AND MICHAEL JOE T. DELIZO