Manila (dpa) – Philippine troops scoured communities and mountains Wednesday near a southern island where three foreigners and a Filipino were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.
Police recovered two speedboats used by the kidnappers on the coast of Governor Generoso town in Davao Oriental province, just south of Samal Island, 980 kilometres south of Manila, where they were kidnapped on Monday.
“From Governor Generoso, you can tell the general direction of where they are going,” military spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato said. “The general direction is the tip of Zamboanga towards Basilan and Sulu areas.”
“We have deployed all available ground, air and naval assets in the area to help in the search and pursuit operations,” he said.
Basilan and Sulu are strongholds of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group notorious for kidnapping foreigners for ransom. They have in the past killed some hostages, but most were freed after money changed hands.
Detoyato said authorities have not yet identified the group behind the kidnapping of Canadians John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 60, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56 and Filipina Marites Flora.
“We cannot connect this incident yet to the Abu Sayyaf, but it is a modus of some local syndicates to abduct and then transfer the hostages to groups identified with the Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
Search operations were focused on the mountains and communities of Davao Oriental and the nearby provinces of Davao del Norte and Compostella Valley, according to Superintendent Antonio Rivera, a regional police spokesman.
“Our operatives are now on the ground to track down the kidnappers,” he said. “They are working with the military and all available assets have been put on alert in case of any sightings.”
Samal Island, known for its powdery sand beaches and pristine diving spots, is a prime tourism destination in the region. About 680,000 tourists visited the island last year, including nearly 30,000 foreigners.
In 2001, Abu Sayyaf extremists tried but failed to abduct tourists from Samal Islands’s Pearl Farm Resort. Three employees died in a shootout with the militants.
The same year, the Abu Sayyaf bandits seized 20 people, including three American tourists, from a resort island in the western province of Palawan.
One of the American hostages was beheaded, while another was killed and the third rescued in a military operation one year later.