- The military found an abandoned boat in a coastal town of Jolo
- Authorities believe that the same boat may have been used to abduct the foreigners from Samal island
- No group has claimed the abduction as yet, and military didn’t give official statement on either the suspects or group they belong
MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Force of the Philippines found a boat believed to have been used by kidnappers to abduct a group of Westerners to the island stronghold of Islamic militants, as confirmed by authorities on Saturday.
The boat was found on Friday in Jolo, which is more than 500 kilometers (311 miles) southwest of the Samal island where the abduction took place. Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commanding general of the Sulu Joint Task Group, has confirmed that two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman were a******d late Monday, as shared in a report by Manila Bulletin on September 26.
The victims were confirmed to be Canadian tourists John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend.
According to a report by Interaksyon published on September 27, Jolo is the main base of the Abu Sayyaf group; an organization linked to Al-Qaeda. The same group has been blamed for the Asian country’s deadliest terror a*****s as well as ransom kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.
“We have eyeballed the sea craft, but not the kidnap victims from Samal,” said Arrojado, who is also the head of a Jolo counter-terrorism task force.
Until now, there is no group who has claimed responsibility over the abductions, while officials would not confirm if the discovery of the boat pointed to possible Abu Sayyaf involvement.
Arrojado detailed that the 25-meter (82-foot) boat suspected of having been used in taking the hostages to Jolo was found abandoned at a coastal town in Parang. The boat was fitted with two on-board engines, and was filled with water when found, apparently from a breach on its hull.
Antonio Rivera, the regional police spokesman said that of all the “threat groups” in the south area, those based in Jolo are the ones most skilled in using boats.
“We cannot say that they (Abu Sayyaf) are involved at this time,” the spokesman added.
The authorities earlier said they have received reports that the kidnappers have taken their victims to the impoverished Davao Oriental region to the east of Samal.
However, Rivera told AFP Saturday that “no boat was seen there (Davao Oriental) contrary to what was earlier reported.”
Security analyst Rodolfo Mendoza was quoted on reports saying that Abu Sayyaf and several other renegade Muslim rebel groups have collaborated in the past, especially in kidnapping foreigners elsewhere in the south, where the victims were eventually taken back to Jolo, where the group’s stronghold is located.
“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, who is also the president of the Manila think-tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism, as quoted by Inquirer in their report published on September 27.
Mendoza said he has no information on whether this is the case in the Samal kidnapping.